Bayern Munich produced a European masterclass to take a commanding 3-1 lead over Arsenal after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash at the Emirates Stadium.
Gunners manager Arsene Wenger had hit out on Monday at critics of him and his side following their FA Cup exit at home to Blackburn, but there was to be no redemption as the Germans were superior in every department.
An early strike from midfielder Toni Kroos handed the Bundesliga leaders a crucial away goal, which was doubled when Thomas Muller stabbed home from close range.
Arsenal, with England forward Theo Walcott initially deployed as central striker, rallied briefly in the second half after they reduced the arrears with a header from Lukas Podolski against his former club.
However, after substitute Olivier Giroud fired a great chance straight at Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer from point-blank range, the Germans cut through the home side again on 77 minutes as Mario Mandzukic scrambled in a third to effectively end the contest, and almost certainly Arsenal’s last faint hope of ending an eight-season trophy drought.
Wenger must now lift his beleaguered players for the Barclays Premier League run-in, where they face crucial games against Tottenham and Everton in their bid to salvage something from the campaign with a top-four finish to again play among Europe’s elite clubs next season.
Walcott’s deployment as a central striker looked a sound tactical switch by Wenger as the England forward quickly got behind the Bayern defence, with Santi Cazorla also making good headway down the right.
However, the high-octane atmosphere from the home support fell flat as Bayern – some 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga – grabbed a crucial away goal on seven minutes. Muller’s cross from the right was not dealt with and Kroos crashed the ball off the turf and past Wojciech Szczesny from 18 yards.
Bayern continued to spray the ball across midfield, this time Franck Ribery picking out captain Philip Lahm on the overlap down the right, his cross put behind. From the resulting corner, it was 2-0 and looked game over after just 21 minutes.
Daniel van Buyten’s header at the near post was parried by Szczesny, and Muller stabbed the ball straight back in back into the net from close range.
Arsenal were in danger of being overrun, with few cool heads as Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta were shown yellow cards for clumsy challenges.
Having left the field to a cacophony of boos from their own beleaguered fans, Arsenal needed to regroup at the break.
The Gunners sparked into life on 55 minutes when Podolski, who had a disappointing three-season spell at Bayern, headed in Jack Wilshere’s right-wing corner at the far post after goalkeeper Manuel Neuer decided to stay on his line. Bayern felt aggrieved at the award of the corner, as the ball looked to have deflected behind off the Arsenal striker.
Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes made a change on 62 minutes as Dutch winger Arjen Robben replaced Ribery.
And with 20 minutes left, Wenger produced a double switch as Olivier Giroud replaced Podolski and Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky came on for Aaron Ramsey. The France striker’s first touch was to turn Walcott’s superb right-wing cross goalwards, but unfortunately it was straight at Neuer.
It proved a crucial miss as Bayern scrambled in a tie-clinching third goal on 77 minutes. Robben sidestepped Vermaelen before releasing Lahm on the overlap down the right.
His cross flew through the six-yard box, where Mandzukic got ahead of Sagna, the ball looping up off the Bayern striker’s shin, over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Some disgruntled Arsenal fans had seen enough, and headed for the exit with around 15 minutes remaining, unsure of when they might see Champions League football here again.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey (Rosicky 71), Cazorla, Podolski (Giroud 71), Walcott. Subs Not Used: Mannone, Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Jenkinson.
Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba, Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Kroos (Gustavo 73), Ribery (Robben 63), Mandzukic (Gomez 78). Subs Not Used: Starke, Shaqiri, Rafinha,Tymoschuk.