Global Sports : Arsenal’s Collapse

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Arsenal were ruthlessly exposed by a calm and collected Monaco side at the Emirates Stadium, writes Matt Stanger.
After failing to get past the Champions League last 16 in the previous four seasons, this was seen as a favourable draw for Arsenal. Monaco may have conceded only once in this year’s competition, also possessing the best defensive record in Ligue 1, but it was expected that a team with 22 goals in their last nine matches would eventually break them down. Perhaps the French side were underestimated.
The objective was clear: Don’t hand an easy lead to an opponent with such strong defensive organisation. Considering that Monaco have scored fewer goals than 13 of their rivals in France’s top flight, and managed only four strikes in the group stage, it should have been an achievable aim. Instead, Arsenal wilted under pressure.
Even before Geoffrey Kondogbia’s opening goal – only the fourth of his career – Arsene Wenger’s side exhibited a naive desperation incongruous to the situation. It was the first quarter of a 180-minute tie, but Arsenal played as though it was the last.
Alexis Sanchez’s determination has been a key factor in his impressive performances, but on Wednesday there were times when his urgency was counter-productive. “Sanchez and Welbeck are dropping too soon,” said Thierry Henry on Sky Sports. “You have to trust your team-mates. It’s easier for Monaco to defend with the opposition midfield in front of you.”
After defending resolutely for the first 40 minutes, Monaco were galvanised by Kondogbia’s deflected strike. Manager Leonardo Jardim could be heard micro-managing his team’s shape for an Arsenal free-kick on the stroke of half-time, hinting at the war of attrition that was about to occur.
“This is a proper defensive performance in an away leg in Europe,” Jamie Carragher posted on Twitter in the half-time interval. “The two banks of four are tight and compact, no space to play forward which forces Arsenal back and sideways. Six Champions League games and one goal conceded in the group stage shows this was always going to be tougher than we all originally thought.”
If the first half was tough, things suddenly got a whole lot tougher after the interval. With Arsenal pushing to find an equaliser, the visitors broke quickly up the other end, Anthony Martial timing his pass perfectly to set up Dimitar Berbatov for the second. The former Manchester United striker had been booed by the home support throughout and repaid the favour by taking his chance with unerring accuracy.
Now Monaco could sit and wait for further opportunities to counter. By defending deep they invited intense Arsenal pressure but, despite plenty of possession around the box, the hosts struggled to find a way through, managing only four shots on target compared to seven for their opponents.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late strike only made Arsenal more vulnerable. With the crowd roaring them on for one final attack, they over-committed, allowing substitute Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco to break down the right and calmly slot home past David Opsina. From needing two goals to win the tie, Arsenal now require three in Monaco, who have only conceded more than twice on one occasion this season.
All hope is not lost, but Arsenal will need to show much more composure if they are to negotiate their way to the quarter-finals for the first time in five years. They possess the players to do it, but on Wednesday they performed without a plan. While Monaco remained calm and collected, Arsenal lost their heads. Perhaps this wasn’t as favourable a draw as first suspected.

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