By Greg Robertson
Welcome keen football fans to the Champions League stage; a stage that sees its players strut and fret their hour-and-a-half upon the stage, the loser to be heard no more. Will we have a Shakespearean twist to whet the appetite and send England round-ball fans into rapture?
And what a merry tale of delight we have tonight – today if you’re on this side of the world – where the stage is Allianz Arena and the hosts are Bayern Munich. Arsenal are trailing 1-3 after the first leg and are in need of making a comeback. Barcelona, yesterday, showed it can be done, but does Arsenal have the same sort of firepower that the Catalans possess?
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LIVE COMMENTARY... Bayern Munich 0 – 2 Arsenal (agg 3-3)
93 MINS: So close but so far, final whistle goes, Bayern advance and the cheers of joy (more like relief) ring around the ground.
91 MINS: Bayern with the ball early in added time, whistles already ringing around the ground from the German fans. Robben has a shot blocked.
89 MINS: We will have three minutes of added time. Arsenal players blow up at the ref when they miss out on a free kick decision.
85 MINS: GOAL! Arsenal give themselves a chance in the final five minutes with a late goal. It came from a cross and looks to be an own goal from Martinez. Plenty of action in the box but the net result is another one to the English side. Bit of a scuffle in the goal mouth as the Arsenal players try to get the ball back and start again.
82 MINS: Muller with some dancing inside the box puts the Arsenal defence at full stretch. He shoots, and lovely save from Fabianski. Muller blasted that one from 15 yards. Cazorla gets a yellow two minutes later for a late challenge. He's smiling, he knows... the nod says that.
78 MINS:How did Gervinho miss?!? Some wonderful skill from him, great turns and footwork and then stretches to try and nudge it into the corner of the net but it dribbles wide. Great chance. Great football.
76 MINS: Kroos gets to the byline... and it's cleared Jenkinson finds Giroud with a half turn, Gervinho waiting free by the penalty spot, but Giroud slips and the chance is lost.
72 MINS: Double switch for Arsenal. Ramsey off for Gervinho, and also, Theo Walcott off and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on. Gomez on for Bayern with Mandzukic off. O-C shifts wide, right straight away. Giroud booked for a clear handball as he tosses the ball away with some distaste. A little harsh on him to be fair.
69 MINS: Robben, Robben is away with a magnificent ball from Muller, Fabianski batters it away from close range. Should have been 1-all . Mayhem then in the box and last ditch defending from Arsenal keeps them in it. It's a siege. Bodies in the way blocking shot after shot.
67 MINS: Gustavo curls one just wide with the left. Mertesacker had to rush but Gastavo still had heaps of time as he tries to pass it into the corner of the net. Fabianski was fully stretched. Kroos then with a chance. It's raining shots. So much space inf ront of the back line. Are Arsenal okay with that?
63 MINS: Arsenal go to sleep on a throw in and it's acres of space for Muller, approaching Fabianski but the keeper is thankful for the cover defence. Rosicky then takes out Robben who was off and racing and the yellow card comes out. Where is Oxlade-Chamberlain? Time Arsene, it's time.
61 MINS: Walcott on the right passes it to Rosicky and Gustavo brings him down. Chance. About 32 yards on the angle and a decent delivery will cause issue... into the wall by Cazorla and his appeals for a handball are more about the poor strike.
59 MINS: There's little joy for Arsenal as they strive forward, frequently losing possession in the vital third and players like Lahm are then getting good ball to work back into the Arsenal half because of it. It's the final pass, and they're been hurried off the ball. Still, Arsenal are in the hunt as we approach the hour mark. When's it time for Wenger to go for broke?
54 MINS: Lahm now with a cross but Arsenal seem solid at the back and are getting away with most things right now. But for how long and how many chances will it take before a crack opens?
50 MINS: The heat is arriving from Bayern to warm this one up and it's a stretched Arsenal side that is hanging on. Some desperate defence at the back in this Champions League clash. Robben then with a blast high into the crowd. There's some seeds of urgency for Bayern Munich right now.
47 MINS: Just wide from Bayern. It was Theo Walcott who was sloppy and slow on the ball, caught in possess by Robben and he sets off on the dribble. Arrives at the edge, unleashes a left and Fabianski is relieved to see it scoot past his right-hand upright. Then it's Kroos's turn, a great shot from 25 yards as he digs it out and manages to keep it down, into the side netting. Bayern have started the better.
46 MINS: Second spell is underway...
HALFTIME: Bayern 0 V Arsenal 1. Don't be fooled, this one is about to spark like no one's business in the second spell. We are about to see a desperate Arsenal.
44 MINS: I think we're back under way... and I mean that in the context of Giroud is no longer injured but nothing really has changed to the state of play. It needs another Arsenal goal this one, it's just gone through a drifting period like the snow at Alliannz that's now coming down. ONE ADDITIONAL MINUTE.
38 MINS: Walcott with his back to goal, then off to Jenkinson who has stationed himself deep on the right, but there's no way through so Arsenal pass it and search to the left. There's a player down and we have a decent break on our hands. It's Giroud and it's a knee.
32 MINS: Bayern's Robben works it onto his left and then jerks his leg across the body in effort, off-balance though and the ball is also dragged across the face of the goal. Walcott and Giroud nearly pull off Groundhog Day, but this time it's just out of reach of the flying Giroud who arrives a touch late back post.
27 MINS: Lahm and Kroos combine for Kroos to shoot, bang out in front and it bobbles in front but Fabianski holds it.
24 MINS: Fabianski picks off another one that was meant for Mandzukic. It was enterprising stuff down the right edge, with Lahm laying off to the over-lapping Gustavo. He had to deliver with his right, preferring his left.
21 MINS: Alaba rolls the foot over the ball to distract, left then right, and tries to bend a left foot around a cross, but that's easy pickings for Fabianski.
19 MINS: Bayern wanting the corner, strong appeal to the ref, as the ball's knocked off Cazorla's foot, but the officials miss it and now don't want a bar of it. Little things like that, if they keep happening for the Gunners then the hope flickers. They are in need of plenty to go their way.
17 MINS: Arsenal are playing a waiting game - sitting back and waiting, waiting and waiting for a small slip up, one mistake, and the answer in spades with the counter. There's plenty of pace out there on the pitch for the visiting side.
15 MINS: Kroos making a nuisance of himself of as he works his way into the penalty area - nice footwork on show - for a shot, only to be blocked and the deflection ballooning away.
9 MINS: The persistence of Muller pays off as Bayern win their first corner of the match. A flick on and it sits up invitingly for the timed volley wide. That was Gustavo with the right foot, smack over the bar.>
5 MINS: Kroos takes the ball on and the chance and shoots, Fabianski having to do his first piece of work in the Arsenal sticks, with urgency, to his right. Both hands swallowing.
3 MINS: We're underway and both teams have settled early... GOAL Arsenal! Walcott finds space after being fed in, down the right and unleashes low across the face... Giroud continues his run to the back post and GOAL! He blasts it into the roof from close range. That's how they needed to start! 0-1 to Arsenal.
It's bitterly cold in Munich... gloves on stuff.
Kick off is a little bit away so in the meantime watch match highlights for the first Champions League match at Emirates Stadium.
Bayern Munich: Neuer; Lahm, Dante, Van Buyten, Alaba; Martinez, Gustavo; Muller, Kroos, Robben; Mandzukic. Subs: Starke, Rafinha, Contento, Shaqiri, Tymoshchuk, Pizarro, Gomez.
Arsenal: Fabianski; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla; Giroud. Subs: Mannone, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Gervinho, Coquelin.
What’s this then? Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger and something in his hand? It’s white… he’s waving it about. Surely, not?
Arsenal are on the verge of putting a second string team out on the pitch against Bayern Munich in a match they need to win by a comfortable margin. Or so the reports suggest.
Wenger’s apparent waving of the surrender flag has come through the dropping of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in favour of Lukasz Fabianski.
There’s more sordidness in this tale though, than just the change to the man in the sticks.
Wenger has several front line players out, none more so important than star England international Jack Wilshere.
And now it’s also being reported that Wenger is likely to rest Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla for the must-win-by-a-few tie.
Instead of a comeback of magnitude in the Champs, Wenger appears to be targeting the EPL. That is, if he’s not pulling the wool over with statements such as, "Swansea is a massive game this weekend...". Now that would be obvious to understand on it's own, if he hadn't then said this: ".. and qualifying for the Champions League is massive". Confused? A precursor to a twist, perhaps? Or just a look ahead to next year's Champions League qualification and the situation the fourth placed side in the English Premier League faces - fourth, with Chelsea just above and Liverpool and Everton just below.
Some 3000 Arsenal fans who are making the journey to Munich will be hoping that if a second string unit is fielded, they are a side that are about to re-write Champions League and Arsenal history, and perhaps produce one of the biggest upsets each has ever seen.
Even the most hardened of optimists can't take a mile out of the inch given by the fact that Bayern are missing Franck Ribery, out with a twisted left ankle.
Let’s face it, Arsenal must deliver Bayern their worst home defeat in Champions League history. It's a massive stretch. It’s not on the cards, not with Bayern’s defence. But it is football, and in football you just never know. Enter the world-shaking upset.
But back to a likely reality after a brief fluttering with the highly fictional. Bayern are the highest scoring team in the Champions League with 18 goals so far, while Arsenal are at the bottom end of the scale when it comes to goals conceded (11).
Double, double toil and trouble for Arsenal.
There are, though, some believers. And one of them will wear an Arsenal strip.
Forward Gervinho thinks a “miracle” can happen against the side that has only lost nine times in 82 Champions League home matches.
While Wenger himself has covered all bases with, it’s not “mission impossible”.
Whatever the current state of play is, Munich are taking the right attitude and proceeding with caution, likely to be ignoring much of the thick plot Wenger is weaving and laying at their feet.
“We are not going to sit back and crowd the defence," Bayern midfielder Thomas Mueller says. "They have nothing to lose, they can attack all the way. We have to be careful."
"We just need to keep positive and give everything we have. We all know anything can happen in football," Gervinho tosses in hopefully. "Personally, I still believe we can make it. I know it will be difficult, but I still believe in us."
So, while Wenger waves a white flag to some, he’s giving others a nudge in the back to get out onto the Champs League stage to perform.
"It can be done, but first of all you need 100 percent commitment, attitude and things to go your way. But usually football goes your way when you have the right attitude,” Wenger says.