A disastrous performance at the Emirates Stadium three weeks ago leaves Arsene Wenger traveling to former club Monaco needing to make Champions League history, and correct Arsenal’s own recent history in the competition, in order to reach the quarterfinals. Having finally avoided one of Europe’s giants in the Round of 16 draw, Arsenal were heavily favored to get past a club whose funding had been dramatically scaled back in recent months. Instead all the long-witnessed faults of Wenger’s team were in evidence in a calamitous 3-1 defeat that for the third season running leaves them traveling away from home needing to overturn a two-goal deficit. Not only did Arsenal fail on both occasions, but it is a feat that has never been accomplished in the Champions League era.
Against a Monaco team that had scored just four goals in the group phase, Arsenal went 2-0 down in the first leg to goals from Geoffrey Kondogbia and former Tottenham and Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov. And, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck back to give the hosts hope, Arsenal were caught out on the break in injury time as Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco’s goal made their task an ominous one in Monaco. Still, Wenger insists that, if they learn the lessons of the first leg, his side can create history.
“We are in a position where today Monaco are favorites,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “But they can still lose it. We can go there and create something special. I believe that we will have the desire to do it and give absolutely everything to do it.
“I think we wanted too much to make a difference in the first game and forgot our basics. That means to defend well and attack well. We just focused on attacking well. [We need to] do what we did [against West Ham United], go until the last second, be patient and play a quality game. We need to focus on the quality of what we want to do and try to do it together.”
Arsenal need to score at least three times in order to progress, something they did when beating West Ham United 3-0 on Saturday. That made it four straight wins for Arsenal since their first-leg defeat, but Monaco have also continued their renaissance in form since a troubled start to the campaign following the exits of big-money signings James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. Perhaps most worrying for Arsenal is the fact that Leonardo Jardim’s men have conceded just one goal in their last 11 home matches dating back to November. In none of their matches at the Stade Louis II this season have Monaco lost by a score that could see Arsenal make it through to the last eight. Jardim, though, is anticipating his side’s biggest test on Tuesday.
“When you are facing team such as Arsenal, with players like [Danny] Welbeck, [Mesut] Özil and [Santi] Cazorla -- it is true we cannot take it easy,” he said, reports UEFA’s official website. “We must focus. We are only at half-time [in the tie] but our opponent has strong and quality players within their squad, so it will be very difficult for us. This will be our toughest game of the season.”
Yet Monaco’s position is further strengthened by the return to fitness of several key players. Captain Jeremy Toulalan and young left-back Layvin Kurzawa are both available having missed the first leg, while Kondogbia and Ferreira Carrasco have also shaken off minor issues. Arsenal, meanwhile, have lost their scorer from the first leg, Oxlade-Chamberlain, to a hamstring injury.
Prediction: The first leg was a bitter disappointment for Arsenal. Despite showing some greater maturity and flexibility in recent months, the failings that have seen them fail to make a major bid for either domestic or continental glory in recent years were all too evident. Monaco are a decent side, and certainly showed themselves to be better organized than Arsenal, but, unlike against Bayern Munich and Barcelona in recent years, there were no possible excuses this time around.
Like against Bayern at the same stage in the past two seasons, Arsenal may well put in a far more credible display in the return match away from home when the pressure is reduced. Once again, though, it is likely to count for nothing, with the damage done in the first leg at home too much to overcome.
Monaco 1-2 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. ET
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes