LONDON -- Different year, similar story. Bayern Munich came to London to face Arsenal in the Champions League in consecutive seasons and twice came away with a two-goal victory.
Both times, Toni Kroos was instrumental, but this year, his position at the Allianz Arena was in question, and his influence all the more critical.
Mere months ago, it seemed unthinkable that his place with Bayern could be under threat. Perhaps one of the players to benefit the most from Pep Guardiola's revolution, he finally looked to be living up to his billing - the long-term heir to Bastian Schweinsteiger and the future torchbearer for the Bayern midfield.
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|3'||KROOS! What a great save by Szczesny! The Polish goalkeeper jumps athletically over to the top right hand corner, pushing Kroos' effort around the post!|
|37'||Kroos clips a wonderful ball over the Arsenal back four, with Robben able to lift the ball over the onrushing Szczesny, who brings down the winger!|
|54'||WHAT A GOOOOOOAL! KROOS SCORES FOR BAYERN! He only needs one touch, and he curls the ball into the top corner, leaving Fabianski with no chance!|
| PLAYER RATING
|4.5||Produced moments of class to light up the game, not least his stunning curler into the top corner in the 54th minute.|
His demands are far from astronomical. The 24-year-old has been at the club since he was 16 (barring a loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen) and as a key member of last season's treble-winning side, it is not outrageous that he would want to be one of the club's top earners.
Wednesday's win at the Emirates is proof that his desires are justified, and underlined just why Manchester United and Juventus are eager to pounce should a new deal not be forthcoming. Unlike last year, Arsenal put up far more of a fight and Bayern was made to withstand an opening barrage from a team eager to prove a point.
Manuel Neuer was the hero as the Bavarians survived the salvo unscathed, saving a Mesut Ozil penalty and a host of other chances. But there is no doubt who then turned the match in Bayern's favor.
Kroos had already stung Wojciech Szczesny's fingertips early on with a brilliant shot from the edge of the area, but he later made the telling contribution in the two incidents which decided the match.
First, he lofted an incredible through ball over the top of the Gunners' defense which forced the Polish goalkeeper off his line to try and keep Arjen Robben from the ball. He misjudged his run, felled the Dutch winger and was off. Advantage Bayern.
The home side survived the resulting penalty, but after the break, the Greifswald native finally broke the deadlock, scoring a fantastic effort from distance. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski stood no chance of stopping it. Arsenal's resistance was over and Kroos was solely responsible for ending it.
On a night where some of Bayern's other big guns went missing, it was the man whose name is constantly in the headlines for the wrong reasons who made the difference. Thiago Alcantara might enjoy a greater wage packet than Kroos, but he was left firmly in his teammate's shadow.
Kroos has been warned by club legend Mehmet Scholl not to play poker over his contract, but his stand looks a whole lot stronger now.
Guardiola, himself an incredible midfielder as a player and someone who should realize what Kroos brings to the team, was delighted with his performance. "He played very well. He's a very good player and he played at a very, very high level tonight."
Kroos himself has revealed that he had clear-the-air talks with the former Barcelona boss, who had frozen him out of the team just a couple of weeks ago. "We had a very good talk. [Our relationship] was superb before and it's still like that."
So, with the backing of his boss, perhaps the saga surrounding his contract can soon draw to a close. And, in a match billed as an individual battle between Ozil and Mario Gotze for the title of Germany's best midfielder, Kroos outshone both of his international colleagues just months before the World Cup.
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