Lea Schuller rises to leave Arsenal looking short of finishing edge
Jonas Eidevall said there were a lot of similarities between his Arsenal team and Bayern Munich but by the end of the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, one clear difference stood out. While Lea Schuller took her chance with a thunderous back-post header, Arsenal missed a hat full of their opportunities, hit the post, had two cleared off the line and, after an entertaining back-and-forth contest at the Allianz Arena, it was advantage Bayern.
There is plenty to suggest that with a bit more fortune and a cooler head Arsenal can find the goals they need to turn the tie around at the Emirates in next week’s second leg. On the balance of play, the Gunners will take confidence from how they were able to dominate Bayern in spells and create several chances in the second half. But Schuller’s excellent header threatens the real danger of Arsenal being made to regret not strengthening their attacking options in January, following those devastating injuries to Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.
As Arsenal chased the goal their overall performance deserved in Munich, Eidevall’s side finished without a striker. Stina Blackstenius had wasted a good opportunity with a first-half header and was then denied by a stunning piece of defending from Saki Kumagai in the second. As was Leah Williamson, this time by Schuller, while Caitlin Foord hit the post with an excellent effort. But Eidevall looked short of options on his bench and Arsenal’s only attacking signing since January, the 36-year-old Jodie Taylor, is unavailable for Champions League selection.
It has been 10 years since Arsenal, the only English team to win a European title, last reached the Champions League semi-finals and they will not need reminding of how tight the margins of this level can be after last season’s quarter-final exit to Wolfsburg. The Gunners do not need to look far, either, for an example of the importance of a finisher like Schuller, who produced a moment of brilliant quality to score the game’s only goal. England international Georgia Stanway was exceptional and typically tireless in midfield, and will relish the battle that awaits at the Emirates next Wednesday.
The tie remains wonderfully poised and the first leg was played out on the finest edge. Eidevall’s pre-match assessment was proved accurate and there was little to separate either side as momentum swayed back and forth. Bayern had won 12 of their previous 13 home matches in the Champions League but Arsenal rode out their early pressure to take initial control of the contest. Williamson’s switches to Foord stretched Bayern and led to Arsenal’s best chance of the half, but Blackstenius couldn’t keep her header down from six yards.
It is Schuller’s towering effort at the other end that will go down as the game’s mirror image. The Germany international drifted between Williamson and Laura Wienroither to meet the rampaging Maximiliane Rall’s cross and, despite falling back, was able to direct the header into the roof of Zinsberger’s net.
By then, the flow of the game had switched back in Bayern’s direction as the German side went direct to Schuller, with the space behind defender Rafaelle a frequent target. A snapshot was fired wide from the angle before Manuela Zinsberger was forced into a stop at her near post. A further chance came just before half time when Bayern split Williamson and Rafaelle, and as the shot drifted past the far post Arsenal were perhaps fortunate Bayern’s lead was only one.
But by full time it was Bayern who were relieved to escape. Arsenal were excellent in the second half and the journey back will be a long one given the opportunities they had to equalise. Foord, who was Arsenal’s most dangerous player on the night, cut inside and curled an wicked shot towards the far corner that caught the bottom of the post. Rafaelle’s header then led to Blackstenius looping an effort goalwards, only to be denied by an excellent clearance from Kumagai. Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir then made a crucial block to stop Blackstenius before Foord’s header back across goal set up Williamson, who could not beat Schuller from five yards.
Schuller, the difference at both ends, means there is work to do for Arsenal to turn this around. Had it not been for Zinsberger denying Rall from close range at the end, then Arsenal may have been left with a familiar quarter-final exit already.