Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Monaco 0 Arsenal 2

Arsenal were eliminated from the Champions League in the round of last 16 on away goals. It was heartbreaking even though we all acknowledged that it was a mountainous task to overturn the 3-goal deficit as we came so close to making history. Nonetheless, we take heart from our players' valiant effort in the second leg. They never gave up their hopes and gave everything to their cause to the final whistle. After all, we beat Champions League group winners 2-0 on their home soil, where they have an excellent defensive record.

Arsenal Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a convincing 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday. Hector Bellerin, who was rested in the London derby, replaced Calum Chambers at right-back, while Santi Cazorla, who started from the bench three days ago, came in for Aaron Ramsey in central midfield. Danny Welbeck started at the expense of Theo Walcott. The travelling squad was virtually identical to the one that faced West Ham, except for the inclusion of Gabriel who had recovered from a hamstring injury with Chuba Akpom left at home as a result.

For the first 15 minutes, we were frustrated with the slow temp, knowing that we had to score three goals in the next 90 minutes. However, it was understandable that the Gunners started the game in a cautious manner, which they should have done in the first leg. The visitors upped the tempo and started commanding possession. Koscielny turned a free-kick onto the Monaco cross bar, but it was adjudged off-side wrongly. Finally, Arsenal grabbed the lead in the 35th minute when Giroud smashed the rebound with his weaker right foot into the roof of the net after having his initial attempt saved by Subasic.

Welbeck was unlucky not to score when his effort hit Abdennour, who was left on the floor without knowing where the ball was. The ball eventually trickled wide, but it could have ended up anywhere, such was the luck of Monaco. In another incident, we might have said that it would have been a soft penalty if we had been awarded a spot kick when Alexis was fouled in the box, but the Chilean receiving a yellow card instead for diving was a massive miss-justice.

In the second half, we continued our attack, seeking for two more goals. Özil's free-kick forced Subasic a finger-tip save. The introduction of Aaron Ramsey, who appeared to have hit some form against West Ham after his return from a hamstring injury, injected energy and purpose. Minutes later, Özil had a glorious chance on the edge of the box, but his shot flew just wide. The second sub of the night, Theo Walcott hit the post from Monreal's cross. Fortunately for us, Kurzawa only cleared the rebound as far as Ramsey, who coolly slotted it home.

As the visitors mounted pressure in their search for a third goal to seal their qualification, they had another great chance. Giroud almost steered Özil's free-kick into the far post only to be denied by Subasic's superb save, although the France striker might have been better off leaving it for the better-placed Alexis. In the end, we could not find the elusive third goal and our Champions League campaign came to an end for this season.

Prior to the match, the Arsenal fans' mood was mixed. Some were optimistic based on the encouraging number of chances we created in the first leg. On the other hand, there was this ominous statistic in which no team had ever overturned a deficit of 2 goals or more in the second leg away from home. We thought what mattered most would be how we played in Monaco regardless of the result. It was paramount that we maintained our momentum and not let the outcome affect the rest of the season negatively.

We take courage from our performance this night. The team learnt from their mistakes in the first leg. Our wingers provided width and pace, which lacked at home. Our players were mentally sharper, more focused and hungrier than 20 days ago. Overall, it was an impressive display. Hopefully, we will also learn from our experience in the last 4 seasons when our disastrous first games cost us dearly (this does not apply to the Barca game, in which we beat them 2-1 at home in the first leg).

The encouraging thing is that Arsene Wenger refused to let himself get down and his side seemed to follow his suit. Both Mertesacker and Ramsey emphasised their strong run in recent weeks, with their focus seemingly having already moved onto the domestic fronts. We still have a good chance of retaining the FA Cup and finishing second in the league is not beyond our reach, given our current form and Man City's recent wobble. Let's focus on the must-win game at St. James' Park this weekend.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
As Monaco registered only 3 goal attempts and no shot on target, he had little to do.

Bellerin: 7

Made 5 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.

Mertesacker: 7
Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions an 1 clearance.

Koscielny: 8
Had a good game with 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 10 clearances.

Monreal: 7

His run into the box and cut-back to Walcott led to Arsenal's second goal. Replaced by Gibbs in the 83rd minute. Hope he didn't get injured.

Coquelin: 7
Made 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance. Replaced by Ramsey in the 63rd minute.

Cazorla: 8
Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 122 passes with a 86.9% accuracy. All-round impressive performance. 

Alexis: 7

He has to curb his tendency to dribble into trouble, needing to release the ball early to suit Arsenal style of football.

Özil: 7
Had 2 shots, one of which was on target. He needs to take more shots. Created 2 chances, while making 101 passes with a 84.2% passing success rate. His performance this night seemed to have totally split opinions among the fans and journalists. He may have lost too many balls for some fans' liking, but he also showed a glimpse of his brilliance in passing, skills, vision and ability to find space in the compact Monaco defence.

Welbeck: 7
Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. He works hard, but needs to improve his ball control especially in the final third. 

Giroud: 8
Had 7 shots, of which 4 were on target. Scored 14th goal of the season, 9th in his last 11 starts.


Ramsey: 8
Replaced Coquelin in the 63rd minute. Made an immediate impact after his introduction and scored Arsenal's second goal.

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace Bellerin in the 66th minute.

Giroud: 6
Came on in the 74th minute to replace Welbeck

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