If ever teams needed reminding how important it is to win their group in the Champions League consider that all four away teams, and group winners, win this week. Last night it was PSG and Barcelona, and tonight it was Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid that picked up the vital away goals and wins.
Arsenal v Bayern was almost a carbon copy of the Man City v Barcelona match. Both English teams had a player sent off and were forced to play for a long period with only 10-men. Trailing 1-0 heading into stoppage time, both Arsenal and City conceded second goals that give Barca and Bayern a huge advantage heading into the second leg.
At the Emirates Arsenal put Bayern on the back foot almost from the opening whistle and that pressure paid off when Jerome Boateng tripped Mesut Özil in the box, but the German’s poor spot kick was punched away Manuel Neuer.
Then the match and tie changed in the 37th minute when Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off for bringing down Arjen Robben in the box. While David Alaba missed the resultant spot kick, Arsenal faced the daunting task of keeping Bayern out for the next 53+ minutes. And they couldn’t.
Relentless pressure from Bayern created chances and eventually Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller broke Arsenal heats.
This game showed the difference between Pep Guardiola and Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino. Tuesday night Martino seemed content to take a one goal lead back to the Camp Nou while Guardiola wanted Arsenal dead and buried in the first leg. Guardiola knew that Arsenal were on the ropes and he kept pushing his side forward, demanding that second goal.
In the other match, Diego Costa popped up with a late winner as Atletico Madrid established the upper hand in their Champions League last-16 tie with AC Milan.
Milan bossed the first leg at the San Siro for long spells but ultimately the class of the Primera Division title challengers came to the fore as Costa capitalised on Ignazio Abate’s poorly-attempted clearance from a corner to nod home a priceless away goal in the 83rd minute.