Arsenal's Champions League round of 16 curse continues as Bayern Munich wins first leg 5-1

Alexis Sanchez
Alexis and Arsenal face a long uphill climb in the return leg. (Reuters)

For about 38 minutes on Wednesday, it looked like Arsenal might have achieved something significant, overcoming six straight seasons of round of 16 futility.

That’s the amount of time that elapsed between Alexis Sanchez’s 1-1 equalizer on the second rebound of his own missed penalty, and Robert Lewandowski’s headed goal, which put Bayern Munich ahead again in the 53rd minute, before the Bavarians ran out to a 5-1 victory.

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But before the game in Munich was all over, the loss was so dispiriting and comprehensive that, clearly, nothing had changed at all.

Barring some kind of miracle, Arsenal will be knocked out in the round of 16 for the seventh season running. Bayern, meanwhile, remains on course for a fifth straight semifinal, and a sixth in seven years — with three runs to the final. The Gunners’ luck against Bayern has not improved. The last time they had played, also in Munich, back in Nov. 2015, Bayern had won 5-1 too. The last two times they had met in the round of 16, in 2013-14 and 2012-13, Bayern had prevailed as well.

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On Wednesday, Bayern ran its Champions League winning streak at home to 16, improving its goal difference over that span to 58-9.

Over the years, Arsenal had gotten into the habit of coming second in its group, meaning it always had to play the home game first in the round of 16. That invariably hurt Arsene Wenger’s team. This year though, the Gunners won their group. Yet their tactics for their away match was designed as if they were playing at home and protecting themselves against away goals.

Set up inexplicably defensively, Arsenal played with two very defensive-minded holding midfielders in Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin and even went with wingers in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi who are more inclined to track back — stranding striker Alexis on an island.

Arsenal invited Bayern to come at them, sitting deep. And just 11 minutes in, Francis Coquelin stepped back from Arjen Robben while Mesut Ozil just looked on. That allowed the Dutchman to tee up from his favorite spot and drive a long shot into the upper 90, past the sprawling David Ospina.

Briefly, Arsenal would rebound. And on a corner around the half hour mark, Laurent Koscielny snuck up on Lewandowski. The French defender tapped the ball away from him and was then cleaned out by the striker on the follow-through of his attempted clearance. Penalty.

Alexis’s shot down the middle was saved by Manuel Neuer. The Chilean got to his own rebound but hit it wrong. He won the ball again though, chesting it down and volleying home on the third attempt.

The two sides exchanged big chances before half-time. Ozil rifled a volley right at Neuer from the edge of the box. And David Alaba whipped in a stinging cross for Lewandowski, but it was ever so slightly hard and high for the Pole and he headed over.

If the score was tied at the intermission, Arsenal had nonetheless mostly been overrun.

Minutes into the second half, the Gunners’ defensive rock Koscielny went down with an injury. And that would exacerbate the collapse that was about to unfold.

In the 53rd minute, Philipp Lahm’s cross found Lewandowski, who hurdled over Shkodran Mustafi and powered the header home.

Three minutes later, Lewandowski back-heeled a ball through the wide-open Arsenal defense for Thiago, who coolly beat Ospina.

At that point, Bayern was quite literally running circles around Arsenal. Lewandowski’s chip from a tight angle pinged off the bar. And then Robben’s shot was seemingly blocked by a hand.

If Javi Martinez’s header off a corner was saved well by Ospina, he would be beaten twice more. Thiago’s dramatically-deflected shot wrong-footed him in the 63rd minute.

And in the 89th, out-of-form substitute Thomas Muller applied some nifty footwork in the box to make it a fifth, capitalizing on the miscues of an Arsenal defense that seemed to have given up.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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