Despite finding themselves drawn against Ligue 1 underdogs AS Monaco in the last sixteen of the Champions League this season – perhaps the kindest tie possible out of the remaining teams left in the tournament – the Gunners somehow go into the second leg desperately clinging onto their European survival.
The Emirates Stadium faithful were certainly not expecting their side to win the entire competition hands down this season, as with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich still going about their business in full force, such a grand ambition would seem unlikely at best.
However, no one within the confines of north London ever expected Arsenal to finish the first match with a 3-1 deficit to the plucky French outfit either. Arsene Wenger’s determined team, which nevertheless includes some of the most high profile names in world football at the moment, simply failed to do themselves justice on the night and now seem to be on the verge of being unceremoniously chucked out of European club football’s most illustrious competition.
With Champions League judgement day fast approaching for the Gunners in their ever persistent attempts to restore their glory of old, should the Emirates faithful start preparing their excuses now for the seemingly inevitable heartache next week, or do Arsenal still in-fact remain possible contenders to prove everybody wrong and actually make it through to the next round?
On the surface it looks unlikely. For one reason or another, Arsenal always seem to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to the Champions League with their latest debacle against Monaco acting as no exception. The French team certainly put in a spirited display but as Wenger’s forward line simply looked knackered the longer the game played out with his defence looking equally stretched and out of place at the back, the Gunners didn’t exactly put up the best of fights.
Wenger’s side now have to win by three clear goals to make it through to the next round, yet despite the backlash of the result labelling such a task as a seemingly impossible one, Arsenal nevertheless still have what it takes to perform an unquestionable miracle next week.
For as good as the Gunners made them out to be in the first leg, Monaco remain a side that really should be getting turned over in a match like this. If they were in the Premier League, they would hardly be the most threatening proposition for Arsene Wenger to deal with and it’s this type of fearless mentality that his side need to take in to their next match.
They need to fight for the credibility that they have temporarily lost in this battle. Players were speaking to the press about winning the entire competition for their manager before their first match with Monaco had even kicked-off, which whilst proving admirable and commendable on the whole, turned them into a seemingly overconfident bunch in the run up to the ill-fated clash.
If the likes of Alexis Sanchez, and perhaps if he is deemed fit enough to play, Theo Walcott turn up on their very best game though, then the task of scoring three goals is made all the more do-able. With Danny Welbeck also in high spirits after his recent heroics in the FA Cup and the all-important Mesut Ozil affectively pulling the strings for his team-mates, Arsenal simply have to see this tie as a winnable one.
Yes – Wenger’s back four aren’t in the best of shapes at the moment, and yes, Monaco seemingly go into the next leg with one of the best defensive records recorded throughout the group stage, but this nonetheless remains a task that the Gunners can carry out. It’s just going to take some tenacity in front of goal that’s all.
As Arsenal often fail to perform to their very best level week in, week out however, such psychological problems could invariably affect the team’s chances of progressing to the next round in the Champions League. It all depends on which of Wenger’s sides turn up on the night – the stylishly ruthless outfit that can seemingly put teams to the sword at will, or the nervous off-the-boil team that all too many times have let their manager down in recent years?
If the Gunners can effectively silence their critics for now however, and concentrate on just how winnable this draw appears to be on paper, Arsene Wenger has every honest reason to expect to be on the winning side of this dramatic match-up come the end of next week.