By Walter Broeckx
Last night I was watching the match on the German TV channel ZDF. This is a channel that is a standard in the packet we get from our cable TV provider. On rare occasions when Germany play and with a few German players on our books over the last years I have watched some German matches to check how our players were doing. As I understand and speak German it is also a good way to keep in touch with the language as for the rest I don’t use it a lot anymore.
Now I must say that as I was watching with the sound on (to practice my German) I was baffled by the knowledge of the match reporter. His predictions almost all came out and his knowledge of the laws of the game was unheard and unseen when I watch football matches in England or in Belgium. An amazingly correct interpretation of the laws. Of course hearing him shout of pleasure when Bayern scored was a moment when I wished I had turned off the sound but for the rest he was very measured in how he looked at the match.
So when deep in to the match near the end of the normal 90 minutes he suddenly said something that sounded rather unbelievable. After Bayern committed a foul on Alexis he said that in the second half Arsenal hadn’t commit a foul. And he said that this was one of the reasons and indications on why it went completely wrong for us last night.
Now I must say I don’t know where you can find fouls per half stats but as for the rest of the match he talked real sense I didn’t really had any trouble of believing him.
When looking at the stats I could find over the whole 90 minutes I found that Arsenal committed 11 fouls. So if my match reporter was correct we committed 11 fouls in the first half and non in the second half. Xhaka committed a foul and got a yellow card for his effort but the ref had then given an advantage so it doesn’t count as a foul.
But for the rest… no fouls… That really is a strange stat. But it also shows that something went completely wrong in the second half.
In fact when the ref blew his whistle at the end of the first half I was very pleased with how the match had gone. After our opening minutes where we tried to go forward a bit the Bayern machine came under steam and rolled their attacking waves as they usually do. We struggled and we conceded a goal that one could see coming when Robben cut inside. I can imagine that we had said before the match: don’t let Robben come inside and let him have an open angle on goal. He is lethal when he can do that and he showed it. But that was the only moment we really gave a player a free run with the ball without being on him.
But for the rest we tried to make the little fouls when it mattered, the bigger fouls when it even didn’t matter and got some yellow card for it. But we battled them and slowly we came on level terms on the playing field and on the score sheet. I even said to my son who was at our home in the first half that we were playing it clever by making such little fouls so that they could not keep their rhythm anymore of the opening 10-15 minutes.
We had the best chances even then in the first half with Xhaka and Özil right at the end of the first half to get in front. Missing those chances was something we paid for later in the second half.
But I really like to know what happened at half time. How come the battling team from the first half was nowhere to be seen in the second half? Was there something in the air in the Bayern stadium in our dressing room? Was it really the loss of our captain on the field that made us lose our battling attitude? Of course Koscielny is a battler and one who will stick out his foot but surely if he doesn’t play others could still continue to do what they did in the first half?
But as the stats show we completely let them play their game. And if you do this against a Bayern team… they will take advantage.
I really can’t imagine that at half time Wenger would have said to his players: ‘ now boys you have made too many fouls, stop making fouls and let them play a bit’. No way Wenger would have said such a thing. But then why did the players not continue the way they were playing and being better and successful at it as we matched them in the last 20 minutes in the first half. Did someone put sleeping pills in the half time tea?
Because the loss of a healthy and much needed dose of aggressiveness cost us this match and the tie. I really can’t understand how we became from a good aggressive team in the first half to a team of soft players in the second half. If we had been soft all match, then one could say we didn’t prepare properly. But now we had shown how to frustrate them and how to gain momentum in the last 20 minutes of the first half. And then….suddenly nothing of that kind anymore.
As I said I can’t believe this was the managers order to not make any more fouls. So the players have to look at themselves as a collective failure. Add to that a slip, a deflected shot and a big personal error against a Bayern team that was allowed to play as if it was indoor soccer and you get the final result we have seen.
Finally a word about something I said on the facebook group of the Arsenal Belgium supporters club some 24 hours before kickoff. I gave my preferred starting line-up. And it concluded Per Mertesacker. People laughed it away of course. Using Per against Bayern? What a stupid suggestion they called it.
But look at their goals again. If Per had played it would be him up against Lewandowski and I am not sure that Lewandowski would have won the header like he did against Mustafi or he certainly wouldn’t have had such an easy header. If Per would have played at the right hand spot it would have been Mustafi or Kos and they both are defenders who come in to the back of strikers and so Lewandowski wouldn’t have had so much room and space to make his backheel. Even the deflected shot after the corner might have been different as I think that Per might have done a better job in heading the ball out. With Kos being out I think it is time to bring Per back and let the captain be the level head on the field. The cool leader we lacked after Kos had to come off.