Bayern Munich piled more misery on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal as they assumed control of their Champions League last-16 tie with a 3-1 win at the Emirates.
Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller handed the runaway Bundesliga leaders a two-goal advantage inside the opening 21 minutes as last season’s runners-up capitalised on some diabolical defending from the hosts.
The lack of marking proved infectious for Bayern as former player Lukas Podolski was gifted a free header into an empty net from a corner in the 55th minute, but as the match opened up still further, Mario Mandzukic added another to his side’s tally with a rather fortuitous close-range finish to give the Bavarian giants control of the tie.
With his side having been dumped out of the FA Cup after a shock defeat to Blackburn at the weekend, it was another humbling defeat for Wenger, whose side have it all to do in Munich, having departed from the competition at the last-16 stage in the past two seasons, with their faint hopes of a first trophy since 2005 in tatters.
Theo Walcott was handed the central striker berth in preference to Olivier Giroud, who was confined to the bench, and defender Laurent Koscielny recovered from illness to return; Bayern, 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table, made just one change from the team that beat Wolfsburg as Javi Martinez started in midfield.
Bayern, who had previously not conceded a goal since December 14, were almost caught out in the fifth minute as Walcott burst in behind Dante and delivered a fine ball across the six-yard box, but captain Philipp Lahm was crucially on hand to turn the ball behind for a corner with Podolski lurking ominously behind him.
It was a promising start from the hosts, but a fleeting one as the visitors stunned the Emirates with their opening goal in just the seventh minute: Mueller picked out Kroos on the edge of the box with a ball back from the right byline, and the midfielder fired a clinical finish beyond Wojciech Szczesny into the corner of the net. Bayern have now scored in each of their last 13 Champions League games.
If the opening goal was simply well-taken, the second was as a result of some truly atrocious defending from Arsenal. Defender Daniel van Buyten ghosted in at the near post to meet a corner and produce a fine save from Szczesny at his near post, with Mueller unchallenged as he tapped the ball home from close range.
By this point the gloom had most certainly descended at the Emirates, but there were occasional moments of encouragement for Arsenal as Van Buyten was forced to make a vital last-ditch block inside the Bayern box to intervene as Per Mertesacker drove a low shot towards goal.
There was a frustrating side note for Jupp Heynckes’s side as the excellent Bastian Schweinsteiger was shown a yellow card in innocuous fashion to ensure that the midfielder will miss the second leg in Munich.
Bayern could have easily been three up before half-time as Mandzukic, who boasts 15 goals from 19 league appearances this seaso, met a delightful cross from Lahm as he rose unopposed in the Arsenal box, but he could only head agonisingly wide of the near post with Szczesny at full stretch.
But within 10 minutes of the restart, Arsenal hauled themselves right back in the contest as Podolski – who made 71 league appearances for Bayern - was afforded a simple close-range header into an empty net after Manuel Neuer charged out and was left stranded as Bayern's defence was caught out. Podolski has now scored four goals from four shots on target in the Champions League this season.
The goal visibly lifted the hosts, and Heynckes reacted swiftly in an attempt to arrest Arsenal’s resurgence by bringing on winger Arjen Robben to replace Franck Ribery just after the hour mark.
Wenger left it until the 71st minute to make a double change as he introduced Giroud and Tomas Rosicky at the expense of Aaron Ramsey and the goalscorer Podolski, and the France striker almost scored within seconds of coming on. Walcott outstripped Dante as he burst down the right before cutting the ball back for Giroud, who really should have equalised as he volleyed straight at Neuer with the goal gaping.
It was end-to-end as Arsenal chased a second goal, but it was Bayern who struck the final blow to restore their two-goal advantage as Mandzukic pounced to flick the ball in, rather fortuitously as he latched on to Lahm's low cross from the right byline. It was a scrappy finish from the forward, but it was one which killed the hosts’ spirits.
Arsenal will be all too aware that only twice in Champions League history has a team won a knockout-round tie having lost the first leg at home. While Bayern have little to concern them in the Bundesliga, the Gunners must now quickly switch their attention to their pursuit of fourth spot in the Premier League ahead of the second leg in Munich on March 13.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Thomas Mueller - Bayern Munich: A goal and an assist capped off an all-round distinguished display from the 23-year-old as he provided a cutting edge for the visitors in the final third that Arsenal could not handle.
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