Unlike most managers in football nowadays, Arsène Wenger facing an old club is a very rare thing indeed.
In fact, the Arsenal boss hasn’t faced a former club since arriving in London in September 1996.
Having left Monaco even earlier than that (September 1994) the club is nothing like the one that he left as a fresh-faced manager making a name for himself.
The tie is a simpler one, on paper at least, than we’ve faced at this stage in recent years but Arsène Wenger is under no illusions:
“They are a disciplined team who are very strong in defence, well organised and dangerous on the break.
“’Easy’ is a word you need to ban in the Champions League.”
Another footballing rarity: Arsenal are surprisingly close to full strength.
Jack Wilshere didn’t train on Tuesday but Wenger said that he was just resting, there hasn’t been a setback for him. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in full training but not in contention for the first leg, while Aaron Ramsey is still out.
Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are still sidelined for the long-term.
As a result Wenger has some decisions to make.
Danny Welbeck has performed very well of late, with his drive and ability leading toboth goals in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. Theo Walcott, however, has returned in great goalscoring form – the one thing Welbeck really lacks – and Wenger seems more inclined to use him in home games.
As Welbeck said himself, the attacking options “gives the manager a good headache to have.”
Héctor Bellerín could come back in for Calum Chambers, but David Ospina is set to keep his place in goal.
Possible XI: Ospina; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Welbeck, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.
Since Wenger left the principality, AS Monaco have had one hell of a time.
Overcoming financial strife to reach the Champions League Final in 2004 was followed by relegation to Ligue 2 in 2011.
Since then the club has undergone a takeover from a Russian billionaire and risen back toward the summit of French football.
Despite spending A LOT of money Monaco (an outlay of circa £214M since the summer of 2012, according to Transfermarkt) have failed to sustain a title challenge or make a real mark in Europe as of yet.
They also don’t exactly play the most attractive brand of football, to say the least.
The six Champions League group stage games involving Monaco saw just five goals in total, with the club keeping an impressive five clean sheets. In Ligue 1 the club have conceded just one goal in their past ten fixtures.
Arsenal, however, shouldn’t face that same mean defence on Wednesday night.
First-choice centre-halves Ricardo Carvalho (remember him?) and Andrea Raggi are both injured, and highly-rated young left-back Layvin Kurzawa is doubtful. Monaco are also light in midfield, with Tiemoué Bakayoko injured and Jérémy Toulalan suspended.
Arsenal are more than familiar with the talents of Monaco’s mercurial top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, and will have to watch out for young Belgian winger Yannick Ferraira-Carrasco if he manages to prove his fitness.
Possible XI: Subašić; Fabinho, Abdennour, Wallace, Kurzawa; Kondogbia, Moutinho; Dirar, Silva, Ferreira-Carrasco; Berbatov.
Obviously Monaco tend to sacrifice attacking verve for solidity at the back.
The real danger in this tie would be conceding an away goal on Wednesday night, with the French club so difficult to break down.
Lots of Arsenal possession and very few chances could be the way this game goes, so it will be vital for both sides to capitalise when chances do present themselves.
It goes without saying that any sort of win-to-nil would be a fantastic result for The Gunners as we look to take advantage of what seems like a fairly friendly draw, and force our way into the last eight.