Ahead of Arsenal v Monaco, we spoke with French Football expert Lana Dawood and asked for her opinions on the upcoming game.
Here’s what Arsenal can expect to on Wednesday.
Most Arsenal fans were delighted when the Champions League draw was made and we had avoided the bigger teams. Were you one of them?
Kind of. Obviously not getting Bayern or Barca was a nice change of pace, but the idea that Monaco are just going to show up and roll over is quite fanciful.
Their record of only conceding one goal in the CL group stages is not an outlier – in their last ten league games, they’ve also only conceded one goal.
When their best players are fit and available, Monaco are a quality defensive unit. It’s only been due to a series of injuries and a disastrous start to the season (they lost four of their first eight games) that has them sitting 11 points behind Lyon in the league.
What should we expect from Monaco then?
Like Arsenal, Monaco play 4-2-3-1, but usually revert to a 4-1-4-1 formation in bigger games or when away from home.
Defensively, they are very strong, with centre-back Aymen Abdennour the pick of a quality group of players.
He’s not had the luxury of a consistent partner in defence though. Any one of Wallace, Andrea Raggi, or Ricardo Carvalho (yes, that Ricardo Carvahlo) have been playing beside him, but at times, Jeremy Toulalan has had to fill in at centre-back, despite being a defensive midfielder.
Wallace is the only one of these available, which is not ideal, as he and Abdennour are very similar players.
Both like to attack the ball in the fashion that Laurent Koscielny does.
As we’ve seen at Arsenal, Kos plays better with someone who sits behind him, so hopefully we can take advantage of this.
At full-back, Monaco are very strong. Layvin Kurzawa and Fabinho are superb attacking options, both technically and athletically. They are both excellent crossers of the ball, and neither will stop running all game.
Both Alexis and Danny Welbeck will have to focus on their defensive duties a lot more than they’d like to, because a lot of Monaco’s outlet balls will go out wide.
Then, in midfield, Monaco have Joao Moutinho and Geoffrey Kondogbia. Imagine for a second if Arteta and Diaby were five years younger and completely healthy. That’s what these two are. Strong, good on the ball, not afraid to stick the boot in when needed.
If Cazorla can deal with having these two swarming around him like he did at Manchester City, then Arsenal will be fine.
If he plays like he did at Tottenham, then it’ll be a long night.
Sounds like Arsenal are in for a tough night then?
They are, but like I said earlier, Monaco, with everyone fit and available, are a good team.
Luckily for us, that won’t be the case on Wednesday.
Toulalan being suspended is huge, as it means Monaco will have to play 4-2-3-1 with Moutinho and Kondogbia sitting deeper, instead of 4-1-4-1 with Toulalan as the DM and the other two further up the pitch.
Bernardo Silva will come in to play the number 10 role, and he’s good as an attacking option who can also hold the ball up well, but defensively, he’s not very good.
This might be all that Cazorla or Ozil need in order to find those crucial spaces in the middle of the pitch with which they’re so good at creating chances with.
Up front, Monaco are no Barca – Dimitar Berbatov is their top scorer in the league this year with a measly six goals.
In fact, I’d be surprised if Berbatov even started. With Arsenal being susceptible to pace and movement up front, and the fact that Berba possesses neither of these, we might see Anthony Martial instead.
He’s raw, quick and gets caught offside far too often, but his ability on the ball is superb. He also does his fair share of defending, which is another trait that Berbatov lacks.
On the wings, it’s more of the same. On the right, there’s Nabil Dirar, who might as well be a clone of Dirk Kuyt. He has twice as many bookings this season as he does both goals AND assists. He can’t cross, but he loves a long shot. He’ll run up and down the right wing all game long, just so he can get in the way.
On the left, it’s the magnificently monikered Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, who is most definitely not a clone of Kuyt. Loves running with ball and cutting inside, but lacks a consistent end-product (21 starts, 2 goals. Ugh)
How do you think Arsenal should attack Monaco?
That’s what Arsenal will need in order to break down Monaco.
If Toulalan was playing, I’d be a lot more concerned about Arsenal’s ability to retain possession in midfield, but with him missing, Arsenal will create chances. They just have to take their time and not over-commit bodies in attack, as Monaco will be more than happy to just sit back and counter-attack down the wings.
As long as Coquelin and Cazorla can keep the ball away from Moutinho and Kondogbia, then Arsenal will have more than enough opportunities to score.
Last question – who wins?
If Monaco were at full strength, I’d have said 1-1 but because they’re not, and because I’m a bit worried about our ability to maintain focus for ninety minutes, I’ll go with 2-1 Arsenal.