Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A New Side of Arsenal Wenger Can Legitimately Defend

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A New Side of Arsenal Wenger Can Legitimately Defend

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley

Bayern Munich 0 arsenal 2 (3-3 on aggregate, Bayern win on away goals) ARSENAL'S performance last night has thrown up several defensive alternatives Arsene Wenger must now consider.

The heavy defeat many predicted never materialised and instead of the subsequent damage to the team's already fragile state, their resilience in the Allianz Arena will boost confidence for what lies ahead.

A two-goal victory was unexpected but of equal surprise was the characteristic upon which the result was built -- compact and disciplined defending.

Those who have witnessed any of Arsenal's recent displays -- most notable the 3-1 first-leg defeat against Bayern three weeks ago and Tottenham's victory in the north London derby earlier this month -- would have found it implausible they could shut the Bundesliga leaders out like this.

Last night was the first time Bayern have failed to score in a game this season and the first time in 25 months spanning 53 games they have lost at home by more than a solitary goal.

There were mitigating factors. Bayern sorely missed Bastian Schweinsteiger's assurance and rhythmic passing in midfield and Franck Ribery's penetration from the left.

Ribery's deputy, former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben, bobbed and weaved while jabbing at Arsenal's defence but was unable to deliver the knockout blow. Bayern also missed plenty of chances.

Olivier Giroud's third-minute goal created a difficult dilemma for the Germans -- attack at will but risk over-committing and conceding again, or play conservatively and invite pressure. Bayern consequently stuttered through the game, ever searching for the right balance and never finding top gear.

Still, Arsenal rode their luck at times.

But the majority of their 21 shots at goal came from outside the box and that is a testament to Arsenal's ability to stop Bayern opening them up -- something that simply appeared beyond them at Emirates Stadium.

Of the five changes Wenger made to the team that lost in London, three were in defence. With Wojciech Szczesny's absence already confirmed, the most surprising call on the night was Wenger's decision to drop captain Thomas Vermaelen.

"I don't want to explain too much," said Wenger. "It is possible he will play at Swansea [on Saturday]. We have today and Friday yet and have to see how everyone recovers. We're rotating a little bit at the back at the moment."

Captains are rarely rotated. Vermaelen has endured a difficult campaign during which Wenger has admitted his form has suffered under the additional weight of leading the team following Robin van Persie's departure to Manchester United.

Defending is always about more than the performance of a back four. The Gunners kept their shape as a team without the ball better than in recent weeks and stayed compact to protect their rearguard. …

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