Arsenal were even with Bayern Munich into the second half at the Allianz Arena. Not only that, they were playing well and creating chances. Forget trying to hold onto the 1-1 scoreline in the first leg and go home in great position — the Gunners rightly felt like they could nab a second goal. Maybe even win.
Then it all fell apart in 10 minutes.
Robert Lewandowski got a running start on a stand-still Shkodran Mustafi, who was glued to the ground as Bayern Munich took the lead.
Just like that, Arsenal were done.
They weren’t hoping for a win anymore. They weren’t even looking at a draw. The mere idea of staging a comeback in the second leg looks fanciful at best. They were completely buried and set to go out of the Champions League in the round of 16 for the seventh straight season. The same Arsenal they’ve always been.
If this were any other team, we would bemoan their “misfortune.” After all, they drew Bayern Munich. That’s horrific luck. And Laurent Koscielny got hurt, which is a killer. And Lewandowski’s go-ahead goal was more a display of how good the Bavarians are, with Philipp Lahm hitting pinpoint crosses and Lewandowski as good in the air as anyone in the world. The second goal was Lewandowski being absolutely brilliant, again. And then it took a deflection to turn Thiago’s shot, which David Ospina looked set to save, into one that went in off his foot.
That’s a string of very bad luck and not one that would reflect a team’s failure, but this is no regular team. This is Arsenal. It’s Arsene Wenger making excuses after the match. It’s holes on the team that they’ve refused to fill for years. It’s a (soon-to-be) seventh consecutive round of 16 elimination. And, of course, it comes not two weeks after a loss to Chelsea that all but ruled them out of the Premier League title race. The whole thing is so bad that Thomas Muller’s late goal to make it 5-1 barely even mattered.
It’s just so Arsenal.
This is Arsenal’s reality. And all the talk about this being Wenger’s last season at the Emirates — his contract expires after the season and Juventus boss Max Allegri has been linked to a North London move — will only get louder. It doesn’t matter that sometimes players get hurt because Arsenal have had so many injuries over the years that Koscileny’s won’t just be looked at as bad luck. To some, it will be irrelevant that Mustafi has been largely good this season and that he couldn’t get off the ground against Lewandowski will lead to questions about whether he was a good signing. While we were watching in amazement at Lewandowski’s backheel, so was the Arsenal defense and that too will come into question. Even Wenger’s decision to start Ospina over Petr Cech, despite the fact that the deflection left the goalkeeper with nearly no chance on the final tally, will be doubted.
All of this would be surprising if it hadn’t been the norm for years. So they will have to answer those questions. They’ll have to defend themselves. They’ll have to explain why things are still OK. And frankly, they weren’t too bad because for most of the match, Arsenal looked about as good as you could expect for a team taking on Bayern Munich at the Allianz. But talking around problems and looking on the bright side got old at the Emirates long ago.
So they’ll have to talk about those 10 minutes. Those three goals. How good Bayern Munich are. How they could let that happen … again. And why the last time they made the Champions League quarterfinals, “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz was the No. 1 song in America. Good luck trying to explain that way.
Arsenal's Champions League hopes lie in tatters at the last-16 stage yet again following a first-leg battering at Bayern Munich.
The Gunners, who have been eliminated in the first knockout round of the competition in each of the last six seasons, twice by Bayern, not only conceded five goals but over 75% possession in Germany.
Their challenge lasted until the break thanks to Alexis Sanchez, who followed up his own missed penalty to equalise after Arjen Robben's superbly-struck 25-yard opener.
But after Arsenal lost Laurent Koscielny to injury early in the second half, Bayern ran riot during a 10-minute period in which Robert Lewandowski headed home before Thiago Alcantara scored twice. Substitute Thomas Muller rubbed salt in the wounds with a late fifth.
It leaves Arsenal with a near impossible task in the second leg and heaps more pressure on manager Arsene Wenger, who now only has the FA Cup as a realistic source of silverware in what will go down as another failed season.
There must have been a feeling of deflated dread for Arsenal when they were drawn to face Bayern in the first knockout round of this season's Champions League.
For the first time in five seasons, the Gunners claimed top spot in their group (ahead of PSG, who made this achievement even more impressive with their demolition of Barcelona on Tuesday) but nonetheless they were drawn against the Germans - their last-16 conquerors in both 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Their fears were fully realised on a chastening night in Munich, which further highlighted just how far behind Europe's leading lights they have fallen and how little progress has been made since their visit here last season, which also ended in a 5-1 hammering.
Robben gave early warning of the horror to come when he cut inside from the right and fired into the top corner from range following a move that had involved nine of Bayern's 11 players.
However, with the gates fully ajar, the flood failed to come as Arsenal were granted an unlikely way back into the game thanks to Lewandowski's clumsy challenge on Koscielny in the box.
Sanchez almost spurned it when his spot-kick was saved by Neuer but after fortunately receiving the ball back, he produced a neat finish through a group of players to level.
The equaliser prompted Arsenal's best period of the game, during which they remained largely without the ball but produced two clear-cut chances, both of which were wasted as Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil struck shots at Neuer after being handed a clear sight of goal.
The optimism Arsenal had accrued from their encouraging pre-break efforts were dashed in a 15-minute period early in the second half, that began with Koscielny - their best defender - limping from the field and ended with Thiago putting the tie beyond them.
Four minutes after Gabriel had replaced his captain at the back, Bayern reclaimed the lead as Lewandowski rose high above Shkodran Mustafi to meet Philipp Lahm's excellent cross and head home his 31st goal in 34 games for club and country this season.
The Pole then turned provider for Thiago, backheeling the ball into his path for a simple finish before the Spaniard quickly added his second courtesy of a shot that deflected in off Xhaka's boot.
Only some lax finishing, the woodwork (from a deflected Lewandowski shot) and a superb David Ospina save to tip over Javi Martinez's header from a corner prevented further goals before late substitute Muller scored with essentially his first contribution, collecting from Thiago before sidefooting home.
Muller's late goal surely represented the final nail in the Gunners' coffin and leaves Wenger now facing an uncomfortable, undesirable truth - that his side's season boils down to an FA Cup game on a plastic pitch in Sutton.
Man of the match - Thiago Alcantara
'It is difficult to explain'
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, speaking to BT Sport: "It is difficult to explain. I felt we had two good chances to score just before half-time.
"I felt we were unlucky for the second goal. The referee gave a corner for us at first. Then we concede the second goal and then the most important was that we lost Koscielny. We collapsed.
"Overall I must say they are a better team than us, they played very well in the second half and we dropped our level. We were a bit unlucky we dropped our level and they were better than us."
Arsene Wenger: Arsenal 'collapsed' at Bayern Munich in Champions League
Arsenal "collapsed" in a "nightmare" Champions League last-16 first-leg hammering at German champions Bayern Munich, says manager Arsene Wenger.
The Gunners were beaten 5-1 at the Allianz Arena, conceding four second-half goals after losing defender and captain Laurent Koscielny to injury.
The Premier League side will now almost certainly go out in the first knockout round for a seventh straight season.
"It's difficult to explain," Frenchman Wenger told BT Sport.
"Just before half-time we had two good chances to score. We came back and played well.
"In the second half we lost Koscielny very quickly - he came off at 1-1 - and finally we collapsed. Bayern are a better team than us as well.
"The third goal was a killer for our players because after that we had no response."
Arjen Robben fired Bayern into the lead, but Arsenal fought back and equalised when Alexis Sanchez followed up and finished his own saved penalty.
However, in the second half the Gunners capitulated, as Bayern excelled in a 10-minute period during which Robert Lewandowski restored Bayern's lead before Thiago Alcantara scored twice.
Substitute Thomas Muller scored late on to surely put the tie beyond the Gunners.
"The real problems were after the third goal," Wenger added.
"We lost our organisation and we looked mentally jaded and vulnerable from that moment onwards. The last 25 minutes was a nightmare for us."
Asked if Arsenal require "miracles" to now progress, the 67-year-old replied: "Of course."
The Frenchman fielded only three questions in his official post-match interview, which lasted less than three minutes.
'We played really well but it is not the final'
Bayern Munich boss Carlo Ancelotti has been under a little pressure despite his side sitting seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.
Wednesday's result saw them break a Champions League record as they sealed their 16th consecutive home win.
But the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss refused to say the tie was over before the return leg at Emirates Stadium on 7 March.
"The performance was good," said the Italian, who has won the Champions League three times as a manager.
"We played really well, but it's not the final. We need to play the second game unfortunately.
"The result is really important, but we don't want to make a mistake. We have an advantage but we have to prepare for the next game in London.
"We want to play like we did tonight - same intensity, same spirit, same concentration. We want to avoid problems."