Knowing what to expect from Monaco in the first leg didn’t help Arsenal, perhaps they should heed Lana Dawood’s advice this time.
First up, nice work on being one of the few people who gave Monaco a chance in the first leg. But 3-1 must have surprised you?
I told you that Geoffrey Kondogbia was decent, but I didn’t expect him to dominate midfield like he did. It was boys against men at times, which was amazing considering that Kondogbia only turned 22 last month. Excuse me for a second whilst I dream of him and Paul Pogba playing in the same team whilst winning Euro 2016 in France.
Where was I? Oh yes, Monaco’s midfield. Even though they had to play Fabinho beside him because of injuries, Kondogbia was immense. Yes, his goal took a deflection slightly larger than Jupiter, but he deserved it for his performance.
He wasn’t the only reason why Arsenal lost though.
Absolutely. Ironically though, the first leg should give Arsenal plenty of confidence going into this game, because Monaco will not change how they set-up from that game to this. Yes, they will sit back and try to hit Arsenal on the counter again, but two things happened in the first leg that will never happen again for the rest of time:
- Olivier Giroud won’t miss that many chances again. He can’t. But he managed time and again to free himself from the attentions of Wallace and Abdennour, and his performances since that game have been hugely encouraging, especially on Saturday. If he can repeat that on Tuesday, Arsenal might have a chance.
- Dimitar Berbatov scored a goal on a counter-attack. I’m still picking up pieces of my brain off the carpet after my head exploded when I saw that. Those pieces are telling me that Arsenal can’t be that stupid again. Surely not. Right?
You said that Arsenal should have plenty of confidence going into this game, but shouldn’t it be Monaco that are feeling better about where they find themselves in the tie?
Yes and no. Obviously, being 3-1 up is a huge advantage. I tried looking to see if anyone had ever come back from being two goals down at the beginning of a second leg away from home since the Champions League was created, just to see if there was a precedent for what Arsenal are trying to do.
Here’s the list of teams that have done it.
Lana, that’s an empty list.
Yeah, I know. That’s because it’s never been done. So Arsenal only have the whole of Champions League history going against them here. But here’s why Monaco won’t be going into this game thinking that the tie is over: you thought that they had injury problems before the first leg? That’s NOTHING compared to where they are right now.
Andrea Raggi and Tiemoue Babayoko are definitely out. After that, pretty much all of Monaco’s best players resemble a cast of extras from The Walking Dead. Kondogbia, Jeremie Toulalan and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco are all going to play but are far from being 100% fit. None of them were risked for last Friday’s 3-0 win over a nine-man Bastia team.
Monaco were able to keep Arsenal at bay because of their ability to track runners throughout the game and maintain a threat on the counter throughout. If Arsenal score early, it might force Monaco to sit deeper, which will suit the visitors. And even if Monaco hold out for a long time, the fitness of the three mentioned above will come under huge pressure, especially if Arsenal hold Walcott and Welbeck in reserve until the last 20 minutes and then just run at them from there.
You sound more confident of an Arsenal win now than you did three weeks ago. What’s changed?
Not much, but Arsenal have been in much better form than Monaco over the last three weeks. Monaco have played four games, they won two game against relegation battlers Evian and Bastia, and they’ve played PSG twice, once in the league, then once in the cup. They drew 0-0 at home in the league, then lost 2-0 in the cup, and didn’t look close to scoring in either game. In the 0-0 draw especially, PSG battered them, but somehow managed to miss a host of easy chances. Sound familiar?
I’m not suggesting that Arsenal should be favourites to go through here, or even that it’s 50-50. The stats speak for themselves; Monaco haven’t conceded three at home since September 2011, and still have only conceded one goal at home since the start of December. But up until last Monday, Arsenal hadn’t won at Old Trafford for almost nine years. These things have to come to an end eventually.
Last question. Who wins?
Everyone I’ve heard predict this game seems to be going for the heroic failure; an Arsenal win but not by enough to go through. And as much as I hate going with consensus, I see it going the same way.
If Arsenal score early, they have a chance. It’ll make Monaco nervous, and it’s not as if there’s going to be a huge crowd to spur them on if they do go behind.
But Monaco are better defensively than Arsenal, and getting Toulalan back, even if he’s not 100%, is a huge bonus. He’s been fantastic at centre-back all season, and as good as Giroud has been since the first leg, I can’t see him scoring.
Arsenal will need Ozil and Alexis at their absolute best to go through………………..and I just can’t see it happening.
Can Arsenal score two? Absolutely.
But three? I fear it’s just too big a task.