Arsene Wenger's team exits the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the third consecutive year despite a famous win at the home of last season's runner-up
MUNICH -- Arsenal exited the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the third consecutive year despite beating Bayern Munich 2-0 in the second leg.
Olivier Giroud stunned the 68,000 sell-out Allianz Arena with a third-minute goal to give the visitors hope of pulling off a Munich miracle.
Despite Bayern dominating for most of the match, Arsenal held firm at the back and Laurent Koscielny’s 84th-minute header equaled the scores on aggregate.
This set up a pulsating finale but Arsenal was unable to score the one further goal required to overturn the 3-1 first-leg deficit and complete one of the greatest two-legged turnarounds in the competition’s history.
The runaway Bundesliga leaders closed out the match to progress into the quarterfinals courtesy of the away goals rule.
The two-legged defeat means that Bayern becomes the third European superhouse in three years to knock Arsenal out at the last-16 juncture, following Barcelona in 2011 and AC Milan in 2012.
Reports that Wenger would concede the match and play a weakened team proved to be misguided, as the Frenchman selected his best available starting X1. He made five changes from the first leg, with injured trio Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski and Bacary Sagna replaced by Tomas Rosicky, Olivier Giroud and Carl Jenkinson, and regulars Thomas Vermaelen and Wojiech Szczesny axed in favor of Kieran Gibbs and Lukasz Fabianski.
It took just three minutes for Arsenal to give its 3,000 traveling fans hope with a quite splendidly constructed opening goal.
A series of cute passes from Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky sent Theo Walcott bursting clear from the right, and his slammed cross-shot into the six-yard box was bundled into the net from two yards by Giroud.
Suddenly, the Allianz Arena was quiet. The home side was initially frazzled, almost as if it could not comprehend that its English visitors could be so presumptuous at this German cathedral.
Bayern gradually began to dominate possession, with Javi Martinez, Thomas Muller and Luiz Gustavo all going close to scoring a first-half equalizer.
But this was not the same mighty Bayern of three weeks ago, the team that was so commanding at Emirates Stadium that many pundits ranked it as the favorite to win this season’s competition.
It was almost as if the Jupp Heynckes’ men did not want to press their foot fully on the accelerator in case they left themselves open to the sucker-punch.
At the end of a first half which Wenger might have concluded went according to plan, his team still needed to score two more goals and not to concede to progress against the odds to the quarterfinals.
Arsenal struggled to get a foothold in the game after break. Cazorla and Walcott continued to be the trump cards but some of the visitors’ midfield passing was wonky and Giroud lacked the velvet touch to hold the ball up and bring others into play.
Bayern continued to exert most of the pressure, with Arjen Robben’s weaving runs from the right flank causing particular consternation to the defensive ranks.
Arsenal made a double substitution after 72 minutes, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho replacing Aaron Ramsey and Walcott, and Wenger’s team immediately began to commit more men forward.
Gervinho and Giroud both had half-chances but could not force Manuel Neuer into a save, while at the other end Fabianski made a string of acrobatic saves.
Koscielny's late header from an Oxlade-Chamberlain corner set up a thrilling finale, but Arsenal were exhausted and unable to create any late chances to score what would have been a remarkable third.