Jim White

Bayern’s win ominous for everyone

Manuel Neuer and Thomas Mueller celebrate Bayern Munich's win at ArsenalOne thing about last night’s game at the Emirates: it might quieten the incautious noises among Manchester United followers about another treble.

Just five minutes watching the Bayern Munich performance would suggest there is one sizeable Bavarian hurdle to overcome if any other club is to achieve victory in the Champions League.

Bayern looked very good indeed. Big, powerful and clever, they oozed motivation. That was the display of a team on a mission, determined to right the wrongs of last season, when they were beaten at home in the final.

But it was also representative of a pattern that is becoming clearer with every round of the competition. The way the German teams are playing this season, everyone else in the competition will be hoping Bayern are drawn with Borussia Dortmund at the earliest opportunity. Otherwise Wembley may well have a very Teutonic look come May time.

Though before we get too carried away about the growing strength of the Bundesliga and all things Germanic, it is worth issuing two words of caution to point out that not everything German is naturally superior: Per and Mertesacker.

A defender not so much durch sprung technik as just sprung a leak, Mertesacker was everything Bayern were not last night. He was slow, he was cumbersome and he was generally second to the ball. He certainly made his countrymen look as though they were occupying a much higher footballing plane.

Which was the real point about last night. For all Bayern’s excellence, for all the growing authority of the German footballing product, the defeat was more significant than the victory. Arsenal bore the look of a side who knew it was over the moment they walked out on the pitch. In a superb, vibrant atmosphere that should only have encouraged them to defy expectation and produce a resounding recovery of a showing, the Arsenal team instead demonstrated precisely what they are: not good enough.

It was the presence of the likes of Mertesacker in an Arsenal line up in such an important match that led you to wonder what is going on at club. The former stalwart centre back Martin Keown was at the game last night. He must have been shaking his head at the evidence of decline all around the pitch.

Keown will have recalled how the team he played in recovered from adversity with such aplomb and wondered where the resolve had gone. He will have remembered how easily crisis was dispelled.

There was a time when it was Arsenal who used to step out on the pitch and immediately undermine the morale of the opposition. There was a time when it was Arsenal who would go two goals up in a European tie before those in corporate hospitality had taken their seats. And it wasn’t that long ago.

Since then there has been a huge diminution to the point when, after last night, three important questions have to be asked of the current side. Where was the character? Where was the leadership? Where was anything resembling those qualities that made the teams Keown featured in so impressive?

Indeed, there is a simple test for anyone to assess how far Arsenal have sunk in the time since they last won a trophy. Just compare line-ups and work out how many of the current team would make it into the Invincibles side of 2004. Walcott ahead of Henry? Ramsey instead of Pires? Mertesacker instead of Campbell? That like-for-like comparison alone is indicative of the scale of decline at the club. There could be an argument made for playing Jack Wilshere ahead of Freddie Ljungberg. And if he didn’t start, certainly the excellent young Englishman would gain a place on the bench. But as for the rest of his colleagues, compared to the Invincibles, they would be lucky to be asked to carry the drinks.

And that is the problem Arsene Wenger has. It is not just a matter of a couple of tweaks required to bring the listing enterprise back on course. That £70million rumoured to be earmarked for reconstruction may only cover half of what is needed. He needs most of a new team.

For 10 years from 1996-2006 Wenger proved his eye for a player to be the best in the business. Henry, Pires, Cole, Van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri: he could find them and he could nurture them like no other among his peers.

Beyond the growing muscularity of German football, beyond the simple brilliance of Bayern, that was the lesson of last night. Wenger needs to find that touch again. And quick.

With the present crumbling around him, the huge credit he built in his past is diminishing with every defeat. Last night’s catastrophe is but the latest to make those who stand loyal behind him look increasingly like sentimentalists.