Arsène Wenger is confident that his Arsenal team can overturn a 3-1 deficit in Monaco on Tuesday and reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in five seasons. After defeats to Barcelona, Milan and twice Bayern Munich in the Round of 16, Arsenal appeared to have been given a golden chance to make it back to the last eight when being drawn against the side that were on paper the weakest of the group winners. But Arsenal again stumbled badly at home in the first leg to leave them traveling away needing to overcome a two-goal deficit -- something which no team has accomplished since the Champions League began in 1992.
Yet Arsenal’s form has generally been strong. Wenger’s men have won 12 of their last 14 matches, a run which has seen them book a place in the FA Cup semifinals and strengthen their hold on a top-four place in the Premier League to stay on track to make it 18 consecutive seasons in Europe’s premier competition. And Wenger is far from writing off his team’s chances of keeping their run going in this season’s Champions League when he returns to the club he coached between 1987 and 1994.
“Monaco are in a very strong position but we have experience and the desire and belief that we can do it,” he said, reports UEFA’s official website. “So we are here to do it. We will have to play on full power, focusing on our offensive and defensive games. The desire is there.
“I am confident. The odds are stacked against us, but we will give absolutely everything to turn the tie around. We will show a different face. In the first leg we failed, which was surprising given our form. We have a second chance and we will exploit it.”
Arsenal should come into the contest at the Stade Louis II Stadium in confident mood, after beating West Ham United 3-0 on Saturday -- a score line that would see them progress on Tuesday. Wenger has, though, lost the man who secured them what could yet prove to be a crucial goal in the first leg, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England international has been ruled out with a hamstring injury picked up in last week’s FA Cup win over Manchester United.
There is better news with January signing Gabriel back available. Given the poor performance Per Mertesacker put in against Monaco first time around, the Brazilian defender may fancy his chances of forcing his way into the side in the principality. But Mertesacker is keen for an opportunity to make amends.
“[We feel] very good, very positive,” the World Cup winner with Germany said, reports Arsenal’s official website. “We have to cope with difficulties and criticism in our job, that is part of it, but we have a good chance to repair it. We want to do better and make better decisions. We did something wrong [in the first leg], but can we learn from that and put another performance in? We need another performance and obviously it is not going to be easy, but we have to show a different face.”
Still, Monaco promise to be a tough nut to crack. The team looked in freefall at the start of the season, when the lavish investment of owner Dmitry Rybolovlev was dramatically scaled back and big-money signings James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao were allowed to depart. But new manager Leonardo Jardim has turned things around impressively. Putting the focus on defensive solidity, Monaco conceded just once in six Champions League group games and have performed similarly in Ligue 1 to move into fourth place.
Adding to Monaco’s belief that they can finish the job against Arsenal will be the improved fitness of their squad. Captain Jeremy Toulalan, veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho and impressive left-back Layvin Kurzawa are all back in the squad after missing out three weeks ago. Meanwhile, the standout player from the first leg, Geoffrey Kondogbia, and fellow goal-scorer at the Emirates Stadium Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, should be available after minor problems.
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes