It may have finished with the Germans two goals to the good but the Champions League tie at the Emirates was very much decided by the man in the Bayern goal
By Peter Staunton | International Football Writer
That Bayern Munich are ahead in this last-16 tie is down to Manuel Neuer, not Toni Kroos or Thomas Muller. The majority of the second half may have played out like a lot of Bayern matches play out – with Pep Guardiola’s team in the Arsenal half, probing and dragging the opposition from side to side looking for an opening, but they were given that right to compete by a virtuoso display from Neuer in the Bayern goal. For all the passes, all the possession and all the shots on target, this win was very easy to analyse. It was the goalkeeper who won it for them.
The half-time break brought a turnaround, not only in their fortunes against 10 men, but in their strategy. Those 15 minutes gave Bayern the chance to calm down and remind themselves of their superiority. Were it not for Neuer, that would not have happened.
“You automatically feel confident when you know that you have the best goalkeeper in the world standing behind you,” Dante said last month.
The reason that Bayern were prepared to make Neuer the second-most expensive goalkeeper of all-time in 2011 is for the first quarter of the game against Arsenal. No team can be expected to be dominant 100 per cent of the time and the Champions League is an arena in which mistakes are punished heavily.
Arsenal were quickest out of the blocks. The save from Yaya Sanogo’s header was out of this world. He flew low to his left with lightning-quick reflexes to bail out his team. Then there was the penalty incident after a move which started from left-back as the hosts tore through Bayern in a matter of seconds.
Neuer won the duel against his school friend and former Schalke team-mate Mesut Ozil, standing tall. “I said before the penalty that Manu would save it. I trusted Manu and he did it. He is the best goalkeeper,” Franck Ribery told Sky Germany.
Neuer was alert minutes later too as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bore down on goal, clearing smartly from a sensible starting position.
In those incidents he showed his quality. He demonstrated why the best team in the world depend on the best goalkeeper too.
Bayern had plenty of respect for Arsenal in the build up to this game and the suggestion was that the English side would cause them bigger trouble than expected and that’s how it panned out. “I have never won here,” Pep Guardiola said in his pre-match press conference. “I learned that you can never dominate Arsenal for 90 minutes. Arsenal, with these quality players, you always have a problem.”
He even went as far as to tweak his preferred lineup, moving Philipp Lahm from his midfield station to right back to safeguard against the threat of Santi Cazorla. The Jerome Boateng horror show ensured that didn’t stay that way for very long and Bayern were quickly back to themselves.
Just like the Manchester City v Barcelona game on Tuesday, this one was decided in a heartbeat and emphasised late on. Once Wojciech Szczesny made contact with Arjen Robben following the lofted Kroos pass, the tie was no longer in the balance. The only surprise was that David Alaba failed to convert the penalty.
But Arsenal were on top in the tie until that point.
Only one man withstood the hosts’ pressure. It was, in the words of Matthias Sammer, the Bayern sporting director, “a leader, an exceptional human being and an extraordinary character.”