Arsenal spine proves brittle to classic counters from Monaco
There was no happy reunion for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger with former club Monaco, who profited from shambolic Gunners defending and woeful finishing in the Champions League last 16 to take a 3-1 advantage into the second leg.
Leonardo Jardim’s team were seen as easy prey for perennial group stage qualifiers Arsenal, now 66/1 outsiders with Coral to lift the European Cup, but their recent pattern of falling at the first knockout hurdle looks set to continue.
A pedestrian first-half saw the Gunners give too much respect to their opponents from France’s Ligue 1, with Monaco doing well to reach this point in Europe’s elite club competition after the high-profile summer exits of Colombia pair Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez.
Standing off Geoffrey Kondogbia, Paul Pogba’s partner in crime in France’s Under-20 World Cup winning midfield, proved fatal, as his long-range shot deflected in off Per Mertesacker seven minutes before the interval.
This somewhat fortuitous opener set the tone for what followed in the second half. Arsenal’s spine and defensive discipline crumbled searching for an equaliser. That allowed former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov to double Monaco’s lead on the break.
Wenger hauled Olivier Giroud off on the on hour following a horror-show of six shots wildly off target, including guilt-edge chances. England pair Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain asked more questions of a resolute visiting defence, with the latter netting what looked to be a lifeline late on.
Chamberlain swiftly went from hero to zero, however, as he gave the ball away in stoppage time, allowing Monaco sub Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco to pounce on this error and Kieran Gibbs deserting his post by grabbing another precisely-finished counter-attack goal.
There could hardly have been a greater contrast in the quality of performance between the respective spine of these two teams here. Wenger saw Mertesacker’s absence of pace punished throughout, with holding player Francis Coquelin belying recent encouraging displays by failing to cover this flaw.
Another anonymous display from Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, has largely escaped media attention because of Giroud’s gaffes in front of goal. Over-committed full backs Gibbs and Hector Bellerin also played their part in the shocking susceptibility showed by the Gunners to counter-attacks.
In front of Danijel Subasic in the Monaco goal, Tunisia centre back Aymen Abdennour played a blinder, while Kondogbia potentially put himself in the shop window if further sales are needed to balance the books this summer. Alongside him, Portugal playmaker Joao Moutinho was hugely effective.
Berbatov took his goal superbly, and his link-up with exciting French youngster Anthony Martial, who moved into the striking berth when the Bulgarian came off, created Monaco’s second.
Jardim should be able to strengthen his spine even further for the second leg, with club captain Jeremy Toulalan back from suspension and ex-Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho to come back from injury alongside Abdennour.
Wenger does not have that same luxury, with age old problems of a top quality centre back and anchorman haunting him and Arsenal fans on this damning evidence. The Gunners are up against it, and strongly odds-on at 1/9 to exit the Champions League in this round.