Lea Schüller’s header gives Bayern Munich first-leg lead against Arsenal
Down, but not out. As 1-0 defeats go this was the vaguely encouraging kind for Arsenal: a performance of real energy and purpose that has set up a beautifully poised second leg at the Emirates Stadium next week. And amid their disappointment Arsenal now know they can hurt Bayern Munich, can pin them back and starve them of the ball, can put them under pressure and create chances.
The burning question, of course, is whether Arsenal will manage to take any of them. Twenty‑five shots came and went for them here, seven of them to the luckless Stina Blackstenius. But Bayern really did need to be at their resilient best in a pulsating second half, twice clearing off the line as an injury-depleted Arsenal turned up the heat against a team that has conceded just four league goals all season. And so Lea Schüller’s towering header proved the difference between the sides here, even if the Bayern coach Alexander Straus suggested that on the balance of play 1-1 might have been a fairer result.
This, perhaps, was the starkest point of difference between the two sides in a tight and taut game: the value of a pure penalty-box assassin, as opposed to the industrious but inefficient Blackstenius. Schüller has added other notes and gears to her game in recent months, becoming stronger off the ball and linking play more effectively, but it is between the two posts that she still does her deadliest work. “She has the potential to be one of the best in the world,” Strauss argued afterwards. “I would not change her for anybody.”
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As for Blackstenius, it was another night of manual labour without too much artistry to accompany it. She gets a tough rap from many Arsenal fans for her lack of precision in front of goal, but equally the absences of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema for large parts of the season have placed a harsh burden on her. Clearly the confidence is not quite there at the moment, which is probably not that surprising when you know that your club tried to smash its transfer record to sign Alessia Russo.
And for the Swedish international it was another of those nearly-but-not-quite kind of performances, epitomised by the second-half chance in which she fatally hesitated eight yards out, allowing Glodis Viggosdottir to steal in and block the shot. Does she work hard and create space for others? Sure. Is she good enough to lead the line in a Champions League quarter-final? Right now, probably not.
There was a healthy dose of controversy, too, with both of Bayern’s goalline clearances. The first saw a shirt-pull on Rafaelle Souza in the build-up; the second a potential back-pass handball in the penalty area from goalkeeper Maria Luisa Grohs. Each time the Arsenal coach Jonas Eidevall howled and fumed on the sidelines; each time the Macedonian referee chose not to consult the VAR.
“Obviously VAR is not working in the arena tonight or someone wasn’t watching the pictures,” Eidevall grumbled. “It highlights a couple of issues. The first is that VAR is only used from the quarter-finals. I don’t know if that referee has ever used VAR before. Secondly, goalline technology is not compulsory.
“Today it was not used because Bayern chose not to pay for it. Next week, Arsenal have chosen to pay for it because we think it makes a fairer competition.”
But for all their frustration Arsenal acquitted themselves well under the highest pressure. The Allianz Arena was an imposing sight at kick-off, with its rolling waves of noise, its futuristic red lighting scheme, the smell of bratwurst wafting across the 20,000-strong crowd. Bayern shaded the first half, Schüller brilliantly heading home Maxi Rall’s cross after being allowed a couple of early sighters.
Arsenal had taken a while to settle into the game, but as the second half progressed they began to impose themselves. Eidevall brought on Victoria Pelova and moved Katie McCabe to left-back in an attempt to gain supremacy of the flanks. Lia Wälti and Kim Little began to pin back Georgia Stanway and Sarah Zadrazil in midfield. Caitlin Foord, who was giving Rall a real test on the left wing, clipped the post with a curling shot.
These, ultimately, were the margins. Having weathered the storm, Bayern looked a little more comfortable in the final minutes, and perhaps both teams seemed to recognise that 1-0 was a disaster for nobody. Bayern’s danger on the counterattack probably makes them slight favourites against an Arsenal team that will need to force the pace in the second leg. But for the home side the celebrations at full time were suitably restrained: the cautious approval of a team who had seen enough here to know that their work is by no means done.