Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Just not enough!

Monaco 0-2 Arsenal

Olivier Giroud
Normally a 2-0 away win in the Champions League, against a side that has a European home record second only to Real Madrid, would be celebrated with great joy. Unfortunately, when such a result comes after a 3-1 home defeat in the first leg, it stands for nothing.

For the fifth year in succession, Arsenal’s players were made to rue their mistakes in the first leg,
with their heroics in the second game seeing them come so close to qualifying for the quarter finals, but yet so far. Ultimately, this 180 minute tie was won and lost in the final two minutes of the first leg.

Once Oxlade-Chamberlain had reduced the arrears to one goal, the Gunners should have shown the maturity and game management to shut up shop and ensure they did not concede again. Had they done so, the 2-0 win away to Monaco last night would have seen them progress into the last eight of the competition. As it was, the required 3-0 victory was just beyond them.

Arsenal came into the second leg in fine form, having won all their games since that disastrous first leg and were full of optimism. An early goal would have really put the cat amongst the pigeons, but unfortunately, the Gunners were unable to breach the tight Monaco defence until just before halftime.

Arsene Wenger’s former side were able to play to their strengths in this game, sitting deep, with two banks of four, suffocating the midfield area and breaking up the play. The fact that every time Monaco won the ball back, they had no out ball and ended up giving possession back to the Gunners, did not make much difference, after all, they effectively had a three goal lead and it was down to Arsenal to try and break them down.

For the first ten minutes, the visitors seemed to struggle to come to terms with their task, but as the first half wore on they soon began to dominate. Unfortunately, lady luck did not appear to be on their side with the ball just not sitting right for them or rolling away from the players at the crucial moment.

Giroud saw a header sail wide of goal after 14 minutes, following a fine cross from Bellerin, but Arsenal were struggling to get in behind the Monaco defence and create goal scoring opportunities as the home side had no reason to leave their defensive positions by committing players forward and leaving space in behind for Arsenal to exploit.

On the one occasion they did do this, the Gunners took advantage. As the Monaco right back attempted to carry the ball forward, he was robbed of possession and suddenly there was a gaping hole in the Monaco defence. The ball was quickly played to Welbeck, whose pass in to Giroud appeared to be just beyond the Frenchman. As Subasic came rushing off his line, Giroud just got there first, but his shot struck the goalkeeper. However the ball looped up and the Arsenal striker turned quickly, before firing a shot into the roof of the net, continuing his recent fine form and giving the Gunners the lead on the night. Arsenal could have had a second soon after, but Welbeck’s shot was blocked by Abdennour, wrong footing the goalkeeper by flying just wide of goal.

Following the half time break, the Gunners needed to maintain their momentum and a minute into the second half; Giroud scuffed an effort wide of goal, before Ozil forced Subasic into a fingertip save from a free kick. However midway through the second period, Arsenal appeared to lose their impetus and Monaco started to come into the game more.

A change was needed and Wenger decided to go for broke, taking off the defensive security of Coquelin and replacing him with Ramsey. While this move did make sense in that Ramsey is always likely to score a goal and with the tie stood as it was, Arsenal essentially had nothing to lose, the later decision to then replace Welbeck with Walcott, was rather perplexing in hindsight.

It is understandable that Wenger wanted to maintain superior numbers in midfield in an attempt to ensure his side kept control of the game, but as the game wore on, Monaco were sitting deeper and deeper, with no real intention of attacking the Gunners. Furthermore, with no space available in and around the box, Arsenal were being forced out wide and crossing the ball into the area, where they only had Giroud capable of winning a header against Monaco’s two towering central defenders. Surely then Wenger should have decided to match Monaco’s 4-4-2 formation, moving Welbeck into the centre forward role alongside Giroud, bringing on Walcott for the largely ineffective Ozil and having the Englishman use his pace on the wing to fashion space and deliver crosses for Giroud and Welbeck to attack, with Cazorla or Ramsey ready to pounce on any knock downs.

With twelve minutes remaining, Arsenal managed to score a second, getting themselves within touching distance of qualification. Monreal was released inside the box and his cutback found Walcott, whose effort struck the post. Fortunately the Monaco clearance was abysmal and fell straight to Ramsey, who steadied himself and fired a low shot, across goal and into the bottom corner.

Unfortunately, although Arsenal had time to fashion a third, the closest they came was from a Giroud header, following an Ozil free kick, which was well saved by Subasic. After this chance, the Gunners resorted to crosses into the box, which ultimately played into Monaco’s hands, as their two central defenders were more than capable of dealing with deliveries aimed at one man.

At the final whistle, it was a case of deja vu for the Gunners as once again they came so close to overturning a disastrous first leg defeat, but just could not get the job done. The players can be proud of their performance last night, they gave everything for the cause, but at this level you just cannot play as they did in the first game and hope to get away with it. Arsenal must now pick themselves up for the next match away to Newcastle on Saturday, as they cannot afford to slip up in the league with the top four race closer than ever this season.

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