Arsenal went into last night’s game needing to score three goals, but they could only manage two. It was a gallant effort from the Gunners who fell just short, and perhaps even merited a third on the night, but they had just left themselves with too much to do.
Monaco did not register a shot on target all game, but still managed to get the result they needed, and now there will be two French teams in the last 8 of the Champions League for the first time since 2009-10 as Monaco join PSG in the quarter finals. It’s over to Manchester City to try to ensure that there is some English team in there alongside them.
City, though, have even less chance than Arsenal did last night. And if you look at what they were up against, Arsenal had no chance at all.
Since 1988, AS Monaco have participated in the Champions League 6 times including this season, and this is the 5th time they have reached the quarter finals. Monaco are a team with pedigree, even if Arsenal thought they were getting an easy draw, and it certainly proved harder for the Gunners than many people expected. And an unexpected and heavy defeat in the first leg left them with it all to do.
In fact, in the history of the knockout stages of the Champions League, no team has lost their first leg 3-1 at home and managed overturn the deficit in the away leg to qualify. Last season Arsenal did the same as this season, albeit to much bigger opposition in Bayern Munich, when they lost 3-1 at home in the first leg. They managed to shock Bayern in Munich, winning 2-0 in the second leg, but it was too little too late.
This time around Arsenal were bested on the counter attack in the first leg, and put up a brave fight in the second. But it wasn’t just history that was against Arsenal, it was also the form of their French opposition.
The Monegasques have the best defensive record in Ligue 1. They did have a rocky start to the season after losing Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez (any club would feel the loss of those two) and the appointment of a new manager who had to get used not only to his new, downgraded squad but also a new league. Monaco’s early season form was poor, but they managed to do well in the Champions League, proving that while manager Leonardo Jardim was still getting used to France he already had a good grasp of Europe.
Since the start of the season, Monaco have used that solid defence as a basis for climbing up the league table. They now sit in 4th place and 4 points off a Champions League spot, but they have a game in hand over those above them, and they may still be dreaming even bigger than 3rd place.
So it was always going to be tough for Arsenal even before the first leg, Monaco had only conceded 3 goals in a game once all season, and that was away to Bordeaux during their early season jitters. They certainly hadn’t conceded 3 goals at home – in fact, in the league, Monaco haven’t conceded a home goal since 22nd November.
And last night they used that to their advantage again. Arsenal found it tough to break down Monaco’s defensive wall, though they did manage to create chances. Monaco were content to have very little of the ball and counter attack only now and again. The figures from the end of the game show exactly the level of Monaco’s attacking ambition: they had 3 shots to Arsenal’s 17, and failed to get even one of them on target.
Monaco certainly rode their luck this time, but after the first leg disaster, Arsenal had left themselves with both history and the impressive Monaco defence against them. As close as they came, they never really stood a chance.