Are Arsenal’s ambitions synthesizing with its reality? That could be the case, following the Arsenal’s shock victory over Bayern Munich on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.
Prior to kickoff, Bayern Munich was coasting in Group F, reflecting its status as one of the favorites to win European soccer’s elite competition. Arsenal appeared destined for an early exit from the tournament after two rounds of group-stage play.
Things then changed dramatically in the span of a couple of hours. Arsenal is an early challenger for the Premier League title, and its dreams of progressing deep into the Champions League exist once again.
Arsenal executed an uncharacteristic plan — to contain Bayern Munich’s powerful attack with a deep-lying defense and strike blows of its own with fast counter-attacks — to near perfection. Bayern Munich dominated the ball and possession at the Emirates Stadium, but Arsenal created and finished more, high-quality chances than the German giant.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech starred in Champions League debut for the Gunners. Manuel Neuer, widely considered the world’s best goalkeeper, gifted Olivier Giroud the game-winning goal by making an un-Neueresque error.
Many blamed Arsene Wenger for rotating his team into a Champions League hole. The Arsenal manager deserves equal credit for reviving his team’s Champions League prospects and prompting new questions about the methods of his Bayern Munich counterpart, Pep Guardiola, who is one of, if not the, leading coach in the world.
Arsenal achieved something remarkable but still has plenty of work to do in order to complete a stunning Champions League turnaround.
Here are some other things we learned in the third round of Champions League games.
Champions League promises nothing
Tuesday’s Champions League games were supposed to be the warm-up act for Wednesday’s slate, of which Paris Saint-Germain’s meeting with Real Madrid was the showcase contest.
Real Madrid and PSG entered the game with a perfect six points from two games. Rather than playing to the wishes of the soccer world, the Group A titans played like they had everything to lose for 90 largely uneventful minutes.
Real Madrid and PSG are two of the other leading contenders to win the Champions League, but the first head-to-head meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sides was a dud.
Life presidents of goalkeepers’ unions
Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, custodians of FC Porto and Juventus, respectively, both celebrated milestones in Week 3.
Casillas’ unceremonious departure from Real Madrid in July after 16 years as a starter didn’t end his Champions League career. In fact, he made more history in Porto’s 2-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Casillas, 34, might be in exile in northern Portugal, but Buffon, 37, remains where he has been since 2001: in goal for Juventus — the “Old Lady” of Italian soccer.
Casillas’ and Buffon’s records are apt reflections of true greatness. They reached the highest level early in their careers and remained there through the inevitable ups (like their FIFA World Cup wins in 2006 and 2010) and downs (leaving Real Madrid and suffering relegation with Juventus) soccer takes every player.
Like the cases of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the “who’s better?” debate between Casillas and Buffon shouldn’t distract from the fact they’re true legends. Had either played at a time when the other did not, he would stand above the rest. Since they play simultaneously, let’s just appreciate them both.
Thumbnail photo via Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press