Minutes 52 and 58. Let me repeat minutes 52 and 58. No there is no campaign against Arsenal, except for the campaign of being serial Round-of-16 bottlers. Back to those 2 minutes in the match, 2 minutes when Arsenal could well be level. When Olivier Giroud chose to go bananas, missing a regulation free header and an open goal from 8 yards each.
Round of 16 has been Arsenal’s hoodoo for 4 seasons now and the Wednesday night performance only added gloss to that tag. Monaco were impressive and executed their plan to perfection. Arsenal were horrible and more than deserved what they got and have on their hands as uphill a task as any to qualify. Monaco on their part haven’t conceded 3+ goals all season, so it’s forgivable to think the tie is as good as dead and buried.
Arsene Wenger mentioned before the game that every minute is important in a 2 legged tie, so it was kind of baffling how he went about things. The game was won and lost in 3 key areas; individual errors, substitutions and fouling. One probably lost count of the individual errors on the night, defensive as well as offensive. To add insult to injury 2 of the many individual errors led to 2 goals.
Pundits are never shy of mentioning the importance of leaders in a side, so when the club’s leader in chief does something as brain dead as that for the second goal, the troops’ shoulders drop further. Not to mention it was Alexis who lost the ball in the buildup, and at least chased all the way back. Individual error nevertheless. There was another nearby moment for Monaco, when Koscielny almost provided ammunition to the French attack, only for a heavy pass to see us out of trouble. Giroud’s “errors” are probably not even worth throwing anymore light on, as his own reactions spoke volumes of how desperately bad they were. Let’s not even talk about Ospina.
If the players were individually poor, the manager ensured they had his company. Bringing on Walcott, Chamberlain and Rosicky, good choices no doubt. More like throwing the kitchen sink at Monaco. But A) Removing Giroud instead of Welbeck? B) Santi instead of Ozil and C) Most importantly removing Coquelin of all players? The first 2 are probably still justifiable on far-stretched logic grounds, the third is inexcusable for a manager with Wenger’s experience.
At the 69th minute with 2 goals down removing the only player capable of mopping the counter attacks for a player whose contribution was to take the scoreline from 0-2 to 1-3, makes little to no sense. Agreed he had a poor game, but there were 90+20 minutes left in the tie. Sacrificing your defence for attack with more than half the tie left is amateur stuff. Also Mesut Ozil might have initially been an intriguing case, now he’s pretty much open and shut. Excellent when the team is having a stroll in the park, the German is an absolute waste of space in a backs-to-wall cause because firstly, he doesn’t even have his back to the wall and secondly his shoulders drop quicker than a dead fly.
When 2-0 down at home the last thing you want on your side are passengers. Keeping Welbeck on however makes a lot of sense, considering he has pace and that Giroud was missing chance after chance it probably forced Wenger’s hand. But the issue with this is Welbeck doesn’t have the intelligence, yes intelligence(quick thinking rather) of Giroud and that automatically hampers the buildup. Secondly his pace is useless when all you’re gonna do on the night is run at traffic. Narrowness is an absolute waste of players with pace and like Walcott showed later on the night, you need to come from wide to utilize your burst to the best.
Now to the main agenda, and something that has been absolutely amiss at the club for some time now, the art of professional fouling. Every other expert/pundit can’t stop about how Arsenal need to add more brute to the side, how the team needs to start winning dirty but what actually is required is for the Arsenal players to learn how to be smart in fouling the opposition. Yes teams with a lead and having pace will counter at will and might cause a lot of scare but it’s not prohibited to bring them down to thwart the attack.
Only twice on the night did we see smart fouls being made by the Arsenal players, Bellerin catching up the speedster Martial and second by Mertesacker who put the brakes on Moutinho. Concediing on counters has been something of a habit for Arsenal, and unless the mentality of fouling to get out of trouble sets in, the habit is unlikely to change. Take yellows, if need be even reds for the team. This is a goddamned knockout stage match in the premier competition of Europe, it won’t come easy no matter how you see it.
Other than those 3 objective areas that lost the game for Arsenal and won it for Monaco, Wenger also needs to know what exactly is that he wants from his formation. Cazorla as the deepest mid? Well that’s how it was on a number of occasions both while starting an attack as well as defending, even for Kondogbia’s goal. Next, what does Welbeck offer when Giroud is on the pitch other than a choice, for the midfield to target? Too many venn diagram intersections for the 2 and the extreme narrowing of the side probably justified the toothlessness in the side. Won’t be a surprise to see Walcott and Oxlade start on Sunday. The morale must be shot to pieces in the dressing room one imagines and that’s how it should be.
There are always question marks after a defeat, more so after one as bad as this. Arsenal are not doing a bad job of emulating Real Madrid’s 6 season long round of 16 exits, and Arsene Wenger will soon realize that much like at the club he might have joined to end their 6 season spell, the buck has always stopped with the manager. No Barcelona, Bayern excuse to cover the cracks. No moral victories either. 3 weeks time to repair the damage.