Despite the scoreline, I’m encouraged, even emboldened by the result. Take away one of our players (because of a rule that I am not alone in thinking should be changed; even Manuel Neuer said Szcz’s red was too harsh), and we still held firm, showing grit and determination in the face of one of Europe’s most prolific sides. It’s a shame we couldn’t see what we could do at full-strength for a full 90′. As it stands, we acquitted ourselves quite well and very nearly went ahead on a number of occasions before the sending-off. In the end, though, we’re right where we left off a year ago—down by two away-goals. The feeling, as described in my post-match reaction, is leagues away from how I felt last year. Without further ado, then, let’s look at how the lads fared. Ratings and stats are courtesy of whoscored.com
- Laurent Koscielny—8.2: Aside from going AWOL in a vain attempt to find the equalizer, it might have been nice to see him stay home to help us preserve the 0-1 deficit. Still, let’s not be too harsh for a man who had already saved a number of goals through last-gasp tackles and five tackles, three offsides won, and ten clearances, all best in the squad, and three shots blocked. He was far and away our best man on the pitch.
- Yaya Sanogo—7.08: His yellow card on a rash challenge against Neuer aside, Yaya performed admirably, especially for a young man making his second-ever start at this level. He very nearly put us ahead after a scrum put the ball at his feet, but Neuer made a fine save. The lad won ten aerial duels. No one else was even close. He pitched in effectively on defense with a tackle, three interceptions, and two clearances. He’s not quite a revelation, nor is he a season-saver—but there’s time.
- Jack Wilshere—6.53: I’m still not sold on him as a defensive midfielder, at least not against top-flight competition like Bayern. His average field-position seems too advanced on this night, especially when we spent so much time on the defensive. He contributed little to the defensive aspect with zero tackles, interceptions, or clearances. If it weren’t for having been fouled five times, he’d have little to show for his efforts.
- Per Mertesacker—6.52: His six shot-blocks led the squad and tell the story for a man who was our last line of defense and kept us organized even after we went a man down. With Koscielny roaming and buzzing around ahead of him, he didn’t quite collect the same stats but still was vital in holdinb off Bayern’s attack. His five clearances were vital as well.
- Santi Cazorla—6.5: An “incomplete” might be more apt as he subbed off in order for Fabianksi to take over in the 38th minute when Szczesny was sent off. He managed a few moments here and there in the time he did have.
- Bacary Sagna—6.44: Like the rest of the back-line, he did well to defend for such a long stretch, what with Bayern keeping possession 79% and firing 26 shots. Bayern sent most of its attack down our left side (41%), which made for a somewhat quieter evening for Bac, but he did well to keep Robben quiet, at least while the Diving Dutchman was prowling along our right flank.
- Kieran Gibbs—6.4: As with Santi, an “incomplete” would fit. He hobbled off with what might be a hamstring issue in the 31st minute, so there’s really very little to say, except maybe to suggest that Bayern sensed greater vulnerability down our left side after he left (as referred to in Sagna’s case above).
- Mathieu Flamini—6.34: He let Muller give him the slip to get open for the header; then again, Lahm had so much time to weigh the pass that it’s no wonder they connected for the goal. It was a strangely quiet night for the man with only two tackles and a solitary interception. Then again, he didn’t maim anyone, so count your blessings.
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—6.24: He couldn’t make the same kind of impression that he’s made in recent appearances. With only 23 touches—fewest among those who played more than 30 minutes—he was left with very little to do and didn’t seem able to force the issue very well when he did see the ball.
- Mesut Özil—6.12: It all comes down to the penalty-kick. His approach was tame, the shot even more so. Little power, poor placement—barely a yard right of center. Neuer, diving to his left, almost had to reach behind himself to make the save lest he dive out of the shot’s way. Worse than that, Özil never really seemed to recover, spending the next 10-15 minutes in stunned disbelief instead of digging in to make amends. Then, of course, the red-card changed our priorities and abilities.
- Wojciech Szczesny—4.81: Harsh, harsh, harsh. Yes, he made contact and it’s a foul. Yes, the rulebook is clear. However, few rules are sacrosanct, and this is one that should be revised. Szcz made a legitimate attempt for the ball but missed. Aside from that, the Pole made a couple of key saves and should use this as fuel for the fire going forward.
- Lukasz Fabianski (for Cazorla at 39′)—6.44: He made a number of fine saves to keep us in it, although he guessed completely wrong on Alaba’s spot-kick. There was little he could do on the two goals as both were well-taken, the first coming through a thicket and curling from wide to cut just inside the post and Muller was able to head it from a wide-open spot 12 yards out.
- Nacho Monreal (for Gibbs at 31′)—5.97: Looked at sea at times, and I’m not sure if Bayern sniffed him out as a weak link as they worked so much along his side, but, with Flamini, he bears a burden for the second goal. In fairness, he was caught between the man he was marking and Lahm and couldn’t commit to Lahm without letting his current mark slip down for a pass into the edge of the area. In a broader sense, he did register four tackles.
- Tomáš Rosický (for Ox at 74′)—Playing for twenty minutes barely offers enough to rate, so his yellow card accounts for the low rating. This was the guy I wanted in the defensive midfield alongside Flamini, but Arsène must not be checking in as regularly as I assumed.
All in all, the result is a tough one to take but not nearly as deflating as last year’s, which produced than identical deficit for the second leg. I don’t mind saying that I actually feel confident moving forward. It may not create momentum going forward, but it shouldn’t knock us back any either. We can attribute it to an unfortunate rule and remind ourselves that we dug in and regret missed opportunities rather than lambaste lacking qualities.