Exactly 12 months after suffering a 3-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich, they once again trail the German champions by two goals and need to produce an extraordinary performance in the Allianz Arena if they are to progress into the Champions League last eight.
Yet while the symmetry of the occasion was painful for the Gunners with Thomas Mueller and Toni Kroos again on target for Bayern, on this occasion they also suffered the additional punishment of losing Wojciech Szcesny to a red card after 38 minutes. There was a nagging feeling the outcome could have been so different this time though, had Mesut Ozil not missed an eighth minute penalty and they had managed to remain fully manned.
It could have been even worse for Arsenal had David Alaba not missed from 12 yards himself after Szczesny had been dismissed for an ill-judged challenge on the outstanding Arjen Robben. But there was no doubt the sending off all but ended home hopes of victory.
Bayern needed no encouragement to make the most of the extra man. And while Arsenal stood firm until the 54th minute when Kroos struck with an excellent long-range effort, and then again before Mueller added the second in the 88th minute, there was an undeniable feeling a second leg turnaround is beyond them.
Wenger remains confident the tie is not beyond them but Bayern have gone from strength to strength since that defeat and with Pep Guardiola imposing his own blueprint on the team, they are arguably an even more formidable proposition this time around.
The initial signs were promising for Wenger. His decision to gamble with Yaya Sanogo in the starting line-up ahead of Olivier Giroud appeared to be paying off with the forward’s early touches suggesting he possessed the unpredictability and the awkwardness to trouble Bayern and while it took Kroos all of three minutes to draw a save from Szczesny, Arsenal looked confident and composed.
And the Gunners’ start almost turned from promising to perfect after eight minutes when Jack Wilshere’s threaded pass released Ozil to run into the Bayern box. The German flicked the ball inside, drawing a challenge from international teammate Jerome Boateng to win a penalty. Unfortunately, from Arsenal’s point of view, Ozil’s next act was much less convincing and his tame spot-kick — the stuttering run-up was a giveaway — was well saved by Manuel Neuer.
Even at that early stage, it felt like a defining moment in the tie. Worse was to come, but it was impossible to ignore the sense of deflation that enveloped the stadium and that found its focus in Ozil’s despairing reaction. The playmaker never recovered and ultimately, neither did Arsenal.
The effects were not immediately noticeable and for 25 minutes Arsenal held their own. Gradually though, Bayern assumed control, moving the ball fluently and forcing Arsenal to work overtime as they attempted to close down the visitors. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offered an outlet down the right but too often, efforts to turn defence into attack ended abruptly.
Something was bound to give and it turned out to be Szczesny who gave Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli little choice but to reach for the red card when he mistimed his challenge as he raced out to close down Robben racing onto Kroos’s chipped pass. Alaba missed the target and spared Arsenal double punishment — but the numerical mismatch eventually told.
There was no lack of resolve amongst the Arsenal ranks as they withdrew in the face of a Bayern side that was bolstered by rapidly growing confidence as well as the extra man. But as the defending grew more desperate, a goal was inevitable and eventually came when Robben and Philipp Lahm combined on the right flank before teeing up Kroos who beat Lukas Fabianski with a superb curling shot from 20 yards.
Had the home side managed to hold out at just 0-1, there would have been positives from the evening but Arsenal’s brave defence eventually crumbled in the 88th minute when Mueller headed home from Lahm’s cross.
The return in Munich will carry an air of familiarity. Arsenal must hope that extends to the scoreline in three weeks’ time.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 4; Sagna 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Gibbs 6 (Monreal 30,6); Flamini 7, Wilshere 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Rosicky 74,6), Ozil 5, Cazorla 6 (Fabianski 38,6); Sanogo 7.
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Neuer 7; Lahm 8, Boateng 6 (Rafinha 46,6), Dante 7, Alaba 6; Thiago 7 (Pizarro 79, 6), Javi Martinez 7; Robben 8, Kroos 9, Gotze 6; Mandzukic 6 (Mueller 64,7).
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).