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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Arsenal Come Short, AGAIN, in Champions League Last 16

Will Arsenal be in the UEFA Champions League next season? That is the question most Arsenal followers were and are asking themselves after the Gunners were ousted from the competition on Wednesday night in spite of a 2-0 win over Bavarians Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

With their domestic form wanting and the Gunners involved in a top four scrap with Tottenham, Chelsea and to some extent Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton, Arsene Wenger’s team are facing the prospect of missing out on Europe’s premier club football competition for the first time in 13 years.

For the second year in a row, Arsenal were asleep for 90 minutes of football and awake for 90 minutes, perhaps oblivious that Champions League matches are won in 180 minutes. The Gunners lost 3-1 at the Emirates and overturning that loss, let alone a 3-gap away goal deficit was always going to be a herculean task.

Arsenal needed an early goal to set the tone for an unlikely (but possible if Barca’s against Milan is anything to go by) comeback. And an early goal they got inside two minutes when Olivier Giroud tapped in Theo Walcott’s cross-cum shot past Manuel Neuer in Bayern’s goal.  

The goal stunned the capacity crowd at the Allianz Arena and a cloud of silence coated the stadium at least until Bayern started starving the traveling team of possession. Thomas Muller, Luis Gustavo and Javi Martinez both came close to restoring parity but while they failed to, at least the intention served to get the crowd singing again.

The rest of the half was evenly played out. Arsenal continued to go at Jupp Heynckes’ side who looked quite cagey and lacking the spark of Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s grit. Robben troubled from the flanks but nothing materialized. Girourd had chances to extend the lead but he fluffed his lines at the nick of time. Bayern capitalized on the holes left by an attacking Arsenal but Fabianski kept them at bay.

Substitute Gervinho had a clear-cut chance to make it 2-0 after he was allowed to turn in the box but saw his weak effort agonizingly crawl across the post. Fabianski was again called into action and saved brilliantly from Thomas Muller.

Bayern looked nervous and they must have been shaking on their boots when Frenchman Laurent Koscielny headed in in the 86th minute but the Bavarians held on to progress 3-3 on aggregate but with superior away goals.

And so just like last season when Wenger’s charges lost 4-0 to AC Milan in the first leg before mustering a 3-0 win in the return leg, the Gunners fell short yet again. They simply can’t pull off a miracle but they make you get close to believing they can. But then again Arsenal are neither Barcelona nor the Arsenal of past. Come end of the season, it will be 8 years since the Emirates club lifted a trophy, any trophy.

However, Arsenal’s failure to qualify was not only their own but a loss to English Premier League as well. For the first time in 17 years, England have no representative in the last 8. Chelsea and Manchester City were bundled out at the group stages while Manchester United couldn’t go past Real Madrid in the knockout stages. Indeed, a food for thought indeed for the Football Association and ardent followers of the “best club league in the world.”

England's loss was Spain's gain after Malaga outsmarted Porto to qualify for the quarters making it three La Liga clubs after Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Champions League debutants scored either side of the half through Isco and Roque Santa Cruz to send Porto crushing out on a 2-1 aggregate. The quarterfinals draw will be done on Friday.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!