At the end of February 2013, FC Bayern München would meet Premiership side Arsenal in the second round of the UEFA Champions’ League. The first leg at the Emirates Stadium would see a polished performance from Jupp Heynckes’ side as they strolled to a 3-1 win, with the return at the Allianz Arena being a foregone conclusion.
Or so we all thought.
If the first leg in London had been an exercise in rhythm and control, the return match in Munich – billed by the majority of commentators as little more than a walk in the park – would provide what was arguably the biggest scare of the season. Bayern would be missing the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and the injured Franck Ribéry, but with Arsenal also missing a number of regulars including Jack Wilshere and first leg scorer Lukas Podolski there would be little for the home fans to fear – until the celebratory atmosphere inside the packed stadium was almost immediately punctured by Olivier Giroud’s third-minute strike. An unfortunate stumble by left-back David Alaba allowed Theo Walcott to find space down the right, and the England winger’s low cross would nutmeg a panicking Danté before finding Giroud – who would make no mistake from a yard out at the far post.
The early blow would give the English side a chance of turning things around, and with the Bayern coach unsure as to stick or twist the pressure would be back on. The confidence from the first leg had been completely sucked out, and Bayern would spend the remainder of the first half on the defensive as their opponents looked to bide their time before upping the ante in search of the two goals they needed to progress. It still looked like a mountainous task for the visitors, but memories of the 3-2 defeat just two years earlier at the hands of Inter Milan would play on my mind as I watched the men in red gradually retreat into their shell. Suddenly, it was like watching another team altogether.
The second half was a bizarre affair, with Bayern unwilling to risk conceding a second and Arsenal continuing to wait patiently until it was almost too late. A lucky offside call against Walcott would have the home fans sitting on their hands, and missed chances from Luis Gustavo and Arjen Robben would only heighten the sense of tension in an increasingly nervous Allianz Arena. With eight minutes remaining Thomas Müller would have a great opportunity to put the tie beyond doubt, but within three minutes Bayern would again be looking at their ability to deal with opposition corners.
There would be a dark sense of inevitability as Santi Cazorla’s kick curled into the Bayern box, and amidst the crowd of red shirts Gunners’ fullback Laurent Koscielny would head home – prompting a bizarre pile-up in the goal as Manuel Neuer made a ridiculously comical attempt to prevent the visitors from quickly returning the ball to the centre circle.
With their tie now hanging by a thread Bavarian nerves would truly be jangling, and Arsenal would throw everything forward to snatch a third goal and secure a coup that before the kick-off had been scarcely believable. It was hard to believe that the team now looking like a collective bag of nerves had been unbeaten in any competitive fixture since the previous October, and at the moment nobody in the stadium would have been surprised had Arsenal managed to breach the Bayern defence for a third time. Thankfully the men in red would hold thing together and see things out, and as the final whistle blew the relief would be palpable.
Rather than a worrying sign, the shock of defeat would prove to be the perfect wake-up call for Heynckes’ men. From that point on, things would only get better – and then, better still.
This extract is from Rick’s almost finished FC Bayern opus, covering his first thirty-three years as a supporter of FC Bayern München.
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