As he digests Arsenal’s fourth straight exit in the last 16 of the Champions League, it may be time for Arsene Wenger to own up to a familiar shortcoming - his chronic shortage of strikers.
With Bayern Munich’s defense briefly gripped with nerves after Lukas Podolski’s 57th-minute equalizer on Tuesday at the Allianz Arena, it was the moment for Wenger to go on all-out attack as his team chased two more goals for a place in the quarterfinals.
Problem was, he had no forwards on his bench to help out lone striker Olivier Giroud.
At Wenger’s disposal was two defenders, a holding midfielder and a rookie winger.
The result? A late charge by the visitors didn’t materialize and Bayern eased into the last eight with a 1-1 draw in the second leg for a 3-1 aggregate win.
“I felt that Bayern was very vulnerable defensively and that we didn’t take advantage of that,” said Wenger, highlighting a problem perhaps of his own making. “I felt the situations were there where we could have made more of it. At the end of the day we never got them really under pressure.”
It wouldn’t be uncommon during his long reign at Manchester United for Alex Ferguson to unleash four strikers at the opposition as he sought late goals to salvage points in the league or qualification in Europe.
Wenger doesn’t even have four out-and-out strikers in his entire squad.
He has attempted a four-prong assault for silverware this season with Giroud as his main striker, with back-up provided by Yaya Sanogo, a 21-year-old French striker who joined on a free transfer last year, and Nicklas Bendtner, the Denmark international who has been out of favor for years and seems likely to be leaving Arsenal in June.
And it’s at this time of the season, when the fixtures pile up and critical games come one after the other, that Wenger’s lack of striker options really shows.
Fans have been crying out for Wenger to strengthen that department, but the French coach has often preferred to sign attacking midfielders and playmakers over strikers.
Even in midfield, he is starting to be short of numbers. Mesut Ozil came off with a hamstring injury at halftime on Tuesday, with Wenger saying his record signing is likely to miss “at least a few weeks.”
Ozil joins Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott in the treatment room just when Wenger could do with all four to play a part in the Gunners’ push for the Premier League title with the team lying third - seven points behind Chelsea with a game in hand.
Arsenal, without a trophy since 2005, also is in the semifinals of the FA Cup. It plays defending champion Wigan, which is in the second tier, for the right to face either Hull or third-tier club Sheffield United in the final.
He won’t need anyone for the Champions League anymore this season.
There’s something about Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena that turns the brains of Premier League managers to mush.
In December, Manchester City went 3-2 up against Bayern and needed to score one more in the final 28 minutes to win by a two-goal margin and finish top of the group. City manager Manuel Pellegrini thought his team required two more goals and refused to bring on top scorer Sergio Aguero from the bench.
On Tuesday, it was Wenger’s turn to be embarrassed.
Arsenal was left with only six players on its substitutes’ bench after being forced to remove Japanese midfielder Ryo Miyaichi at late notice as he was ineligible to play in the Champions League. The error was spotted by the club just before kickoff.
“Honestly,” Wenger said, “that did not have an impact on (the) result.”
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