By Wayne Veysey, Goal.com
Arsenal's Champions League dream was left hanging by a thread after it was beaten 3-1 in its last-16 home leg by Bayern Munich.
Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller put the 2012 runner-up two goals ahead after 20 minutes but Lukas Podolski gave the hosts hope with a 55th minute reply.
Just when Arsenal was starting to gain a foothold in the match as they searched for the equaliser, Mario Mandzukic flukily looped the ball over the line with 13 minutes left to re-establish the German side’s dominance.
It leaves Arsene Wenger’s out-classed team with an almost impossible task to reach the quarterfinal stage of Europe’s elite competition.
It must score at least three goals in the Allianz Arena in three weeks’ time to have any hope of qualifying for the last eight.
The odds are against Arsenal, given the authority and poise of the display from the run-away Bundesliga leaders.
They completely out-classed their English hosts in the first half, and when they were asked some serious questions after the break, responded with the evening’s fourth goal.
The pressure is now as intense as it has ever been on Wenger, who had displayed such anger in his pre-match press conference on Monday as he took exception to questions about his own future.
The Frenchman had recalled his big guns as he made seven changes from the team that was dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, with Theo Walcott spearheading the attack in place of the axed Olivier Giroud.
Arsenal came flying out of the starting blocks as it took the game to Bayern but the visitors dealt them a crushing blow after seven minutes with a slickly-constructed opening goal.
Dreamy defending from the hosts allowed Thomas Muller’s mis-hit cross from the right flank to be seized upon by Kroos on the edge of the penalty area. The 23-year-old demonstrated terrific technique to smash the fizzing cross into the ground and over Szczesny into the goal.
It was harsh on Arsenal but Bayern soon began to radiate assurance and poise, even if their second goal was down to lamentable defending rather than attacking flair.
Daniel van Buyten latched on to a near-post corner to flash a header straight at Wojciech Szczesny, who should have done better than weakly parry the ball barely a yard in front of him. While the red-and-white shirts crammed into the six-yard box barely moved, Muller pounced to prod the ball home.
With just 20 minutes of the tie played, Arsenal found themselves teetering on the brink of a Champions League exit.
Wenger’s team was shell-shocked at going two goals down and struggled to mount an attack of note in the remainder of the opening period against one of the meanest defenses in Europe.
On the stroke of halftime, the prolific Mario Mandzukic headed powerfully wide with the goal at his mercy.
A combination of jeers and silence from the home support greeted the whistle but Wenger’s team talk did not appear to have much initial effect as the second period carried on from where the first had finished.
In the 55thminute, Arsenal tiptoed back into the game as Bayern conceded a goal that was even softer than the second of the match.
After winning a fortuitous corner, Jack Wilshere’s curled ball was inexplicably allowed to travel into the path of Podolski, who directed it over an unmanned line with what appeared to be his shoulder.
Finally, Bayern had conceded a goal after 664 minutes of shutting out its opponents. Finally, Arsenal had some momentum.
Substitute Olivier Giroud nearly scored with his first touch after seizing open a fabulous cross from Walcott but, with 13 minutes remaining, Bayern reestablished its two-goal advantage.
More hideous defending from the home team allowed a drilled cross from Phillip Lahm to fizz across the box.
In what seemed like slow motion, Mandzukic beat Bacary Sagna to the cross to send the ball looping cruelly over Szczesny and into the net.
These are testing days for everybody involved at the club.
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