Against opposition that presented Arsenal with a glorious chance to reach the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in five years, Arsenal produced a horror show on Wednesday night. A 3-1 defeat at home to Monaco not only leaves Arsène Wenger’s men with a major uphill task to progress, but featured all the elements that have made watching Arsenal such a frustrating experience in recent seasons. A club with a stadium that’s the envy of most rivals, and which has given it the capability to compete with the game’s heavyweights in terms of transfer fees and wages, continues to punch below its weight.
Especially if Arsenal fail to do what only six clubs in the history of the European Cup/Champions League have done in overcoming a home deficit in the second leg, questions will once again be asked about Wenger’s leadership. But, perhaps more immediately, it raises doubts about the futures of several players and will put pressure on Wenger to bolster the quality of his squad in the transfer market this summer.
Particularly galling, not for the first time, was the space allowed by Arsenal’s midfield, with Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia dominant against the previously heralded Francis Coquelin. A commanding, physical midfield presence remains missing at the Emirates. Last summer it had been strongly reported that the gap would be filled by German World Cup winner Sami Khedira. The 27-year-old was entering the final year of his contract at Real Madrid and no longer a regular in the European champions’ lineup. He has remained at the Bernabeu, although with a contract still unsigned and an exit this summer now widely expected.
But it currently looks unlikely that he will end up at the Emirates. German tabloid Bild has reported that Schalke are making moves to secure his signature on a free transfer. Bayern Munich and Liverpool have also been linked. Khedira is not the only Real Madrid midfielder to have been cited as a target for Arsenal in recent times. In the January transfer window a move for Asier Illarramendi was strongly mooted, before the Spaniard ended up rejecting a €24 million (£17.5 million) transfer to Athletic Bilbao. According to Spanish publication El Confidencial, Illarramendi’s future remains in doubt following Madrid’s signing of Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva, but it is his former club Real Sociedad that are in prime position to sign the 24-year-old. Again, Liverpool are said to be monitoring the situation.
A new transfer target has also emerged for the Gunners in the form of Cagliari’s teenage midfielder Godfred Donsah. The 18-year-old has caught the eye in his 15 Serie A appearances this season and has earned comparisons with his Ghanaian compatriot Michael Essien. Certainly a player with the attributes of the former Chelsea star would be a huge boost to Arsenal, however several complications lie ahead. According to the London Evening Standard, Manchester City as well as Arsenal are following his progress. Getting a work permit will also prove difficult, with rules in England likely to be made tougher this summer and potentially meaning that only players signed for at least £10 million will qualify.
Also culpable for Arsenal’s defeat to Monaco was the finishing of Olivier Giroud. While he has been in fine form of late, the France striker has often been less than ruthless in front of goal at crucial moments. That tendency was spectacularly evident on Wednesday when he failed to find the net with four clear chances.
History shows it remains unlikely that Giroud’s latest failings will prompt Wenger into upgrading his forward ranks. Still, Metro has reported on stories from Spain suggesting that Arsenal are pursuing Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Blessed with blistering pace, Aubameyang can play out wide or through the middle and has been in prolific form of late. But he hasn’t always been lethal in front of goal and it would be a major surprise were Arsenal to pay the €40 million (£29 million), the 25-year-old’s agent recently said it would take to prize him away from Dortmund.