AS Monaco 0 – Arsenal 2 (Giroud 35, Ramsey 79)
Man of the Match – Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
AC Milan in 2011/2012 and Bayern twice in 2012/2013 and 2013/2014. Arsenal fell short in the first Knockout stage of the Champions League for the last 3 seasons, after having put up horrendous displays in the first leg. Against AC Milan, Arsenal were trounced 4-0 at the San Siro, in a game that was literally run by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Arsenal managed to peg back the Italian giants in an stunning opening salvo of 3 goals at the Emirates, but were eventually knocked out 4-3 on aggregate.
Against Bayern the following season, an out-of-sorts Arsenal faced arguably the best football side on the planet, and were beaten convincingly at home, by a scoreline of 3-1. The Gunners went to the Allianz, and put up a brave fight, scoring early and very late in the game, to win 2-0, but again fell short by that 1 goal. When the Bavarians were drawn again, most Arsenal fans feared the worst. However, Arsenal had won a penalty in the opening exchanges of the first leg at the Emirates. Manuel Neuer saved off his childhood friend Mesut Ozil, and from there it was downhill. Arsenal lost 2-0 on the night, and could only muster a 1-1 draw at the Allianz, to get knocked out 3-1 on aggregate.
And, for the 4th season running, Arsenal continue committing the same mistakes, that have prevented them from progressing into the quarterfinals of Europe’s elite club competition. After being drawn, arguably the weakest side ‘on paper’ left in the competition, in the form of AS Monaco, most Gunners fans would have heaved a sigh of relief. But that quickly turned to dismay, as an appalling display at home saw Arsenal losing the first leg 3-1 at home, leaving them with a mountain to climb in the second leg at the Stade Louis II.
Hector Bellerin came in for Callum Chambers at right-back, while Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck replaced Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott from the squad that trounced West Ham 3-0 at home in the league. Arsenal approached the opening minutes with caution, as Monaco”s skillful players seemed to be causing the visitors some problems in midfield. Monaco didn’t press to high up the pitch, and preferred to see Arsenal attacking.
Arsenal’s first chance came on 14 minutes, when Ozil and Sanchez combined to release Bellerin on the right. The Spaniard’s cross was met by an Olivier Giroud header, but it was headed wide. Santi Cazorla then saw his volley blocked by left-back Layvin Kurzawa. Laurent Koscielny then saw his effort strike the bar, only for it be called as offside. Tunisian centre-back Aymen Abdennour was keeping a close watch on Giroud, and the Frenchman was left frustrated after he failed to take advantage of a ball that fell to him from Welbeck, who received it from a Bellerin cross.
Giroud, however got the vital breakthrough for Arsenal in the 35th minute. He was put through by Welbeck, in a one-on-one with Subasic. His first effort was saved, and he found himself with the ball on his wrong foot. It didn’t matter as he thumped it to the roof of the net, from a narrow angle, with two Monaco defenders standing on the line.
Arsenal could have gone into the break with a 2-0 lead, as they created more chances. Immediately after the goal, Abdennour was stunned, as a Welbeck effort went just wide of Subasic’s goal. Alexis was then harshly booked for diving, when there was a clash with defender Nabil Dirar. Welbeck was causing problems for Monaco’s defence with his pace, and twice he set up Giroud, only for Subasic to be equal to it, as the half drew to a close.
Arsenal needed to keep up the momentum in the second half, in order to score more. Giroud had an early chance, before Subasic had to be at his best to keep out a free kick from Ozil. Monaco had little attacking impetus, but when they saw a bit of the ball, they were causing Arsenal’s defenders problems with their skill.
Striker Anthony Martial was replaced with Belgian Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, the scorer of the 3rd goal at the Emirates Stadium, in the first leg. Arsene Wenger decided to give the game his all, as he called on the more attack-minded Aaron Ramsey to replace Francis Coquelin. Ozil’s effort then went just wide. The absence of the holding midfielder in Francis Coquelin meant Monaco started getting more spaces to attack.
Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov was taken off and replaced by Portugese Bernardo Silva, while Theo Walcott was thrown on for Danny Welbeck. After keeping the ball for a while, Arsenal found another goal in the 79th minute. Walcott struck the post having been set up by Nacho Monreal, but the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey, who took a touch, before dispatching the ball perfectly in the back of the net, leaving Subasic with no chance to make a save.
2-0 up, and there was real hope that Arsenal could turn this around in the ensuing 11 minutes. Kieran Gibbs came on for Nacho Monreal, and Arsenal almost scored again. A Cazorla free-kick was contested by both Alexis and Giroud. It struck both, and only a miraculous save from Subasic kept the ball out. For poor souls watching it on television like me, we thought it was a goal, only for the celebrations to be cut short by the referee.
Arsenal just couldn’t break Monaco’s defence after that, and got knocked out 3-3 on aggregate. There is no doubting the performance on the night, but for a 4th season running, Arsenal were undone by a horrendous first leg performance. There’s still much to look forward to though. A 2nd place finish beckons, and so does a successive FA Cup win.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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