The UEFA Champions League once again provided nothing but frustration for Premier League club Arsenal F.C.. Not only was Arsenal bounced from the tournament in the Round of 16, this time by holders Bayern Munich, but they lost big-money midfielder Mesut Özil to injury and manager Arsene Wenger had meltdown over the officiating.
With the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United after last season, Arsene Wenger reigns as the longest-tenured manager in the Premier League. The Frenchman has guided Arsenal since 1997. In that time his Arsenal clubs have captured three domestic league titles and four FA Cup championships — but the coveted Champions League trophy has always eluded him.
In truth, after falling behind 2-0 at home in the first leg of their Round of 16 showdown against Bayern Munich, Arsenal stood very little chance of heading to the home pitch of the German powerhouse and reversing their Champions League fortunes.
Arsenal did well to battle for a 1-1 draw at Allianz Arena, but Pep Guardiola’s side still cruised into the Champions League quarterfinals on the 3-1 aggregate tally.
The defeat was Arsenal’s fourth straight ouster at the Champions League Round of 16. Adding injury to insult, the Arsenal club-record transfer fee of £42.5 million — $71 million — paid last August for German international Mesut Özil is looking more and more like money squandered.
Özil left the match with a hamstring pull that will keep him out of action for several weeks, but even before departing, his performance in the crucial Champions League showdown was so uninspired that the English press gave him one of its trademark skewerings in the aftermath of Arsenal’s disaster.
The Daily Mirror called him “bitterly disappointing again,” while The Daily Mail declared that after his showing in Munich “you wouldn’t pay two-bob for him.” The Daily Telegraph described the Arsenal centerpiece as “indifference personified” while The Independent declared that he “made no difference whatsoever.”
While the knights of the keyboard were laying blame for Arsenal’s elimination squarely on Özil, Arsenal boss Wenger had another scapegoat in mind — two of them actually: Bayern’s Dutch winger Arjen Robben, and the Champions League referees who he said fell for Ribben’s theatrical diving tactics in the first leg, sending off Arsenal goalie Wojciech Szczesny.
The decision, Wenger felt, cost Arsenal leg one of their Champions League Round of 16 tie, and in leg two they were left with second-choice keeper Lukas Fabianski, who performed admirably, but not well enough to make Wenger forget the absence of his usual starter.
Robben won another penalty in Tuesday’s Champions League game, with what Wenger felt was a second Oscar-winning performance.
“What made the difference was the decision to send our goalkeeper off in the first game,” Wenger said. “Robben is very good at getting the maximum of nothing. He’s a great player as well a very good diver but it’s part of him.”
Arsenal currently sit in third position on the Premier League table, six points ahead of fifth place Tottenham with a game in hand, so they appear well-positioned for yet another adventure in the Champions League next season.