The prolific Pole’s decision to ignore the Gunners’ interest in his services was vindicated during Bayern’s latest rout of the hapless Londoners
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Neither Robert Lewandowski nor Bayern Munich looked overly happy with how the first 45 minutes unravelled in Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 clash with Arsenal, but the Polish hitman led the charge as Carlo Ancelotti’s men moved through the gears and broke their visitors’ resistance in all-too-familiar fashion.
There is no doubt that the Champions League holds special significance for the Bavarians. Pep Guardiola enjoyed a wildly successful three years at the Allianz Arena, but a trio of failed campaigns for Europe’s biggest prize eventually convinced him that Manchester City and the Premier League would be a better option. In response, Bayern turned to a Champions League specialist in Carlo Ancelotti, who has lifted the trophy three times, and with two different clubs (AC Milan and Real Madrid).
Sad Arsenal blown away by Bayern
Through both the Pep and Carlo eras, Lewandowski has rarely erred. He boasts goalscoring numbers up there with the very best in world football: 25 in his first season after switching from Dortmund; 41 in 52 games the following year; and going into Wednesday’s clash no less than 23 strikes in 29 outings.
Both world-renowned coaches came under the microscope in the Bundesliga, but kept – and in Ancelotti’s case, keeps – racking up wins built on the goals of the prolific Pole. And small wonder, as against Arsenal he proved that even when the chips are down he is capable of responding magnificently – unlike Arsene Wenger’s group of fair-weather bottlers.
During the first half, Lewandowski appeared stricken with the same collective ennui that had enveloped the vast majority of Bayern’s XI, the admirable Arjen Robben apart. He squandered a fine chance to extend the lead from close range, before finding himself inside his own box and out of his comfort zone as Laurent Koscielny won a penalty off the back of the forward’s clumsy attempt to clear.
The overall effect was a team that, far from advancing on the extreme possession tactics of Pep, indulged in the worst excesses of the playing style associated so closely with the Catalan. Arsenal took just 21.2 percent of the ball in that opening period, and yet managed more shots on goal than their ponderous hosts. It was a scenario that had the Allianz Arena restless with impatience.
But then Lewandowski stepped up to the mark – again. The No.9 had been ineffective, even a liability before the break, and he came out of the dressing room determined to atone for his errors. A looping cross from Philipp Lahm eight minutes into the second half gave him the opportunity he was looking for.
WATCH: Robben’s stunning strike!
Soaring majestically, Lewandowski connected with a towering header that gave David Ospina no chance, breaking the deadlock and putting Bayern 2-1 ahead. Arsenal had left the door ajar for the hosts and they proceeded to batter it open with pace, strength and precision.
Nobody embodies those qualities quite so completely in the Bayern squad as Lewandowski. Thiago Alcantara was the lucky beneficiary of a wonderful flick that left the ex-Barca man en route to goal, and another strike from the midfielder and later Thomas Muller leaves this tie, if not totally liquidated, then at least an almost foregone conclusion for Ancelotti’s men.
Do not be fooled by the scoreline. Bayern were not quite so dominant as the final result would have one believe; indeed, Arsenal went into the break sensing a glorious chance for revenge on the opponent that has ended their Champions League dreams on so many painful occasions in recent years. When it came to the tie’s decisive moments, however, they simply did not have the players with the talent or character to impose themselves and take a famous victory.
WATCH: Casemiro’s amazing volley!
Arsene Wenger is surely aware of this. One of the players he has identified in the past to lead his forward line is none other than Lewandowski, although his hopes of landing the Pole took a serious blow in December when, amid public protestations of love for his club, Lewandowski extended his Bayern contract until 2021.
On the evidence of the Bavarians’ latest – almost annual – victory over Arsenal, it is not hard to see why. Lewandowski showed all of his quality, both physically and mentally, to bounce back from his blooper and lead from the front in a crushing victory. He is Bayern’s hero, a player of both character and quality. How Wenger must wish he had a No.9 like Lewandowski.