Arsenal lived up to just about every cliche that surrounds them on Wednesday night, succumbing to a crushing defeat. Pre-game optimism billed this as the start of a new European adventure, Arsenal’s first continental tie in half a decade that they were actually expected to win.
Monaco are currently 4th in Ligue 1, seven points off third place Marseille and only four points ahead of seventh placed Montpellier.
They also were missing five first team players, most notably Jeremy Toulalan – this was the perfect time to be playing the (seemingly) weakest outfit left in Europe’s elite competition.
Five minutes of optimism descended into a blunt, unimaginative and shocking performance. Arsenal now head to the Stade Louis needing to score three big goals, which on the basis of this performance will be near-on-impossible.
Here are five crucial points regarding the game…
Before this article descends into a pessimistic analysis of Arsenal’s strategic shortcomings around the pitch (and it will), it would be best to crudely say why Arsenal lost last night. Simply, their players – individually – played dreadfully.
Sir Alex Ferguson presented a basic analogy in his autobiography that for a team to win a game of football, eight of their starting 11 had to have a good game – you could carry three under performing players at a maximum, but after that you were in trouble.
Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud all put in career defining bad performances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky made monumental individual errors for the third (and decisive) goal. Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and Danny Welbeck were all below par.
A more assured keeper may have adjusted their body position better than David Ospina did for Monaco’s opener. This was as much an individual breakdown as it was a collective team failing. Arsene Wenger can’t be faulted entirely.
That said, team cohesion and strategy were still lacking, and it started from the back.
Mertesacker and Koscielny laboured on the ball and resembled a hungover pub-team’s defensive pairing, devoid of confidence, careless on the ball and toothless against the counter. Arsenal needed to build from deep because the fantastic Fabinho and Kondagobia could fend off long balls, but Arsenal’s usually dependable pairing could hardly string a pass together.
That, in turn, drew Cazorla and Coquelin (who should have been sent off) deep towards their own goal, where they failed to make any impact on the game.
That meant Welbeck and Sanchez came remarkably narrow to influence the midfield, where Monaco were compact and resilient.
Narrowness is fine if somebody stays wide to exploit some space, but this never seemed to happen in the first half. While Ozil was exceptionally poor, on occasions you’d see him pound his fist in frustration at the lack of options around him, with everybody seemingly too close to him.
These weaknesses were all compounded by the slow natured tempo of Arsenal’s attacks. Monaco probably couldn’t believe how blunt an offence they had to deal with.
The question pondered in the wake of this game was whether Monaco played well or Arsenal played badly. In the first half, Monaco looked fairly average – timid, nervous, expectant of a ferocious onslaught.
Arsenal were worse than them in that opening period, and the fortuitous Kondogbia goal was the fuel needed to energise them into a more stirring display. That gave them confidence to really kick on in the second half, and they were a good side for long spells in that period, while Arsenal maintained their lackadaisical build up play that came to nothing.
Just like Monaco were empowered by their goal, Wenger desperately needed one of Giroud or Welbeck’s dying chances to be converted. It wasn’t to be.
Emphasis must be laid on the importance of Monaco’s third – no side has lost a European Cup or Champions League first-leg knockout tie at home by two goals and progressed to the next round since Ajax in 1969. Monaco have conceded 1 in their last 10 in the Stade Louis, and they boasted the best defence throughout the group stages.
This will rank very near the bottom in Wenger’s Arsenal career- this was a ‘new-era’, post austerity Champions League chance against a beatable opponent to actually make some headway in Europe after five years of 1st knockout round disappointments. It’s seldom you see so many individual errors in one performance, and Wenger pointed to psychology and mentality in his post-match interview.
If there’s one saving grace, the last time Arsenal disappointed that much in Europe was when they were mauled by Milan at the San Siro 4-0. In the return leg they appeared an entirely different outfit, and were 3-0 up at the Emirates at half time, making a wonderful comeback.
Wenger will need a performance of that ilk if he’s to have any chance of creeping through this disastrous affair.