Bayern Munich answered its critics with a comprehensive 5-1 rout of Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League clash to put one foot in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Thiago Alcantara struck twice in a superb performance, while Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and substitute Thomas Mueller scored the other goals. Arsenal now faces what seems a near-impossible task in the second leg of the Round of 16 on March 7, despite a first-half equalizer from Alexis Sanchez.
“It’s a very, very good position,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said with a smile. “It should do.”
The Premier League side, which lost captain Laurent Koscielny to a hamstring injury early in the second half, looks set to exit at the same stage for the seventh season in a row.
“The real problems came after the third goal, because we lost our organization and looked really jaded,” Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger said. “The last 25 minutes was like a nightmare for us because we had no response.”
In the night’s other first-leg match, defending champion Real Madrid recovered after conceding a stunning early goal to beat Napoli 3-1 on Wednesday and stay on track for its seventh straight appearance in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro all scored for Madrid after Lorenzo Insigne’s extraordinary goal for Napoli less than 10 minutes into the Round of 16 first-leg match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Bayern extended its 16-game winning run at home in the competition with a repeat of the score from the last time the sides met, in November, 2015.
“It’s only one game,” Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti said, playing down the significance of the win. “It’s not the final, unfortunately.”
But Ancelotti will be relieved his side showed what it’s capable of after five unconvincing games since the winter break, when Bayern faced criticism for looking tired and lacking the dominance it displayed at the start of the season.
There was little Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina could do to stop Robben from opening the scoring in the 11th minute. Given too much space, the Dutchman cut inside as he’s done so often before and let fly with a shot that went in off the underside of the bar.
Bayern dominated and it looked only a matter of time before the home side would add to its tally. Instead, Arsenal was given a lifeline when Lewandowski took down central defender Koscielny and the referee awarded the penalty before the half-hour mark.
Amid deafening whistles from the home fans, Manuel Neuer saved Sanchez’s weak spot kick and Sanchez then missed the rebound. But the Chilean cut the Bayern fans’ cheers short when he prodded in a third attempt.
Suddenly the momentum was with Arsenal. Granit Xhaka should have scored when he shot straight at Neuer, and Mesut Ozil might have made it 2-1 at the break, only for Neuer to come to Bayern’s rescue again.
But it was all Bayern after Arsenal lost Koscielny in the 49th minute.
Robben and Philipp Lahm combined on the right ring, the latter producing an inviting cross for Lewandowski to rise above two defenders and head inside the right post in the 53rd.
The Poland striker produced a brilliant back-heeled flick to send Thiago through to score another three minutes later.
Bayern had a host of chances thereafter, first through Lewandowski, who struck the crossbar after rounding the ’keeper, and then through Robben, who was blocked by Kieran Gibbs, illegally according to the Bayern players, who demanded a penalty.
Those claims were forgotten when Thiago grabbed his second, minutes later, with a deflected shot after a corner, before he set up Mueller to complete the rout with two minutes remaining. The Germany forward had come on two minutes before.
“We have to cope with the result,” Wenger said. “No matter what we say now, it’s detrimental to us.”Report Typo/Error