Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed his team after they reignited their Champions League hopes by halting the Bayern Munich juggernaut last night.
Late goals from substitute Olivier Giroud, after an unlikely error by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and Mesut Ozil earned the Gunners’ first points in Group F and revived hopes of progressing to the knockout stage for a 16th successive season.
It was a first defeat in 90 minutes of the campaign for Bayern, who brought a 12-match winning streak into this fixture and have knocked Arsenal out of this competition twice in three years.
“We had an absolute necessity to win the game and we did it in an intense, disciplined way,” said Wenger. “It was a top level game between two very good teams. Bayern had more possession than us but we decided to make it tight in our final third and catch them on the break. In the last part of the game when we went longer we suddenly played more in their half and they struggled. Overall, I think we have beaten a very strong team and kept a good level of focus from the first to the last minute.”
Wenger believes Arsenal still need at least a draw in Munich next month if they hope to qualify, but has been heartened by this result and a 3-0 win over Manchester United.
“We weren't at our level of focus in the first two [group] games because we were always focused on the Premier League but tonight we knew that we needed that to beat Bayern,” he added. “It can strengthen our belief and the belief of people around us -- our fans.”
Hundreds of Bayern fans who boycotted the first five minutes in protest at Arsenal’s ticket prices missed the rare sight of striker Robert Lewandowski, who had 15 goals in his previous seven games, bearing down on goal but failing to score.
It set the tone for a breathless first half which Bayern largely controlled, forcing Petr Cech to save from Thiago Alcantara, the mesmerising Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal, although the Gunners launched a series of dangerous raids as the interval neared.
In-form Alexis Sanchez blazed over on the half-volley when a corner fell kindly, but the hosts’ best chance came when Ozil and Nacho Monreal combined to set up Theo Walcott and the England forward’s close-range header was clawed away by Neuer.
Bayern enjoyed 71 per cent possession in the first half and they seemed to tighten their stranglehold after the restart, Costa and Lewandowski going close from distance as Arsenal struggled to maintain their earlier intensity.
Lewandowski looked likely to finally score his customary goal 15 minutes from time until centre-back Laurent Koscielny’s last-ditch block diverted the Pole’s shot over.
Wenger’s men capitalised seconds later when Neuer uncharacteristically flapped at a deep free-kick and Giroud, charging in behind the Germany No1, diverted the ball, perhaps unwittingly, into the unguarded net. Ecstatic Arsenal fans turned delirious five minutes into stoppage time when right-back Hector Bellerin burst towards the goal-line and crossed for Ozil, whose volley was ruled to have crossed the line before Neuer scooped it clear.