Let’s get it out there from the start… Arsenal have a mammoth task awaiting them this evening. The Gunners’ quite frankly woeful showing at home to Monaco sees them entering the second leg of the clubs’ last-16 clash with a 3-1 deficit, despite opening the encounter at the Emirates Stadium.
No team in the history of the Champions League has come back from such a socreline in the knockout phase, so Arsenal can make history if they overcome the odds in the Principality to defeat the Dimitar Berbatov-fronted side, who have only just returned to the top tier of French football – this is their second season back in the big time.
Stranger things have happened in the beautiful game, though. And with Arsenal needing at least three goals at the Stade Louis II, here are FIVE reasons to be positive…
“Giroud scores in the big games. He loves it. I hope he will score in this one. He is in a good run of form.”
The words of Robert ‘Bobby’ Pires in relation to the Gunners’ talismanic striker. Giroud has not always been a popular figure at the Emirates Stadium and still divides opinion, but his form this season has been excellent. Another goal in the weekend win over West Ham took the Frenchman’s league and cup tally for the season to 13, and it’s fair to say that he’s currently riding a wave of good form that has seen him firmly dislodge Danny Welbeck and become Wenger’s main man.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Monaco aren’t a great side. This season is only their second back in Ligue 1 after a period of decline, which has been brought about by Russian money and the importing of talent. They finished last season as runners-up to PSG in the French top tier, and this season they may fail to quality for the Champions League altogether – they sit fourth behind Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon. Further to this, they’ve netted just 32 goals in their domestic league – only three more than relegation-threatened Toulouse.
With Monaco being more of a millionaire’s playground than hotbed of football, the Stade Louis II is far from being an intimidating arena. Low stands and a running track don’t help to create an atmosphere, while a maximum capacity of 18,500 – which is rarely ever met – again ensures that noise is minimal. Arsenal need to get on the front foot and show what they can do from the off, which may be easier for them without a rampant home crowd.
However, Monaco have won 75% of all their Champions League clashes at the ground.
Building on statistics, Arsenal can take great heart from the fact they’ve met French opposition on five occasions in the Champions League knockout stages and have won out each time. Wenger appears to have a solid knowledge of the footballing scene in his homeland, and with the Gunners having had a recent break before their West Ham win he’s sure to have done his homework.
Monaco have netted just seven goals in the Champions League this season. SEVEN. To put that into context, Bayern Munich smashed the same number against Shakhtar Donetsk in a single match last week, the competition’s top scorer, Luiz Adriano, has hit nine, and Arsenal scored over double that figure in the group stage. The Londoners need to attack and keep it tight at the other end, so the Mediterranean side’s lack of cutting edge may be beneficial.