February 25, 2015 19.45 PM BST
After a two-and-half month long break Champions League football is back.
Arsenal have been consistent members of the Champions League February fixtures since the 2000-01 season and haven’t missed the first Knockout Stage since the reorganization of the competition in 2003-04. However, we have gone through a bad streak as we have been knocked out by Barcelona (2010-11), AC Milan (2011-12) and Bayern München (2012-13, 2013-14) respectively in the last four years.
We weren’t pushovers in any of those clashes though and our next opponents AS Monaco are hardly a team from the same bracket as the aforementioned European giants.
That’s why we all hope our European bad luck will come to an end and we’ll be among the best eight clubs in Europe.
There are a lot of connections between Arsenal and AS Monaco.
1.Arsene Wenger’s last European job before Arsenal had been at Monaco. He was sacked at the beginning of the season 1994-95.
2.Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Gilles Grimandi played together for both sides. Petit and Grimandi had won Le Championnat before they participated in the first of Arsene Wenger’s doubles while Henry – who was also a part of the Monaco side that had won the league in 1996-97 – came a bit later and went on to become the best Arsenal player and goal-scorer of all time winning two league titles and FA Cup three times in the process.
3.Emmanuel Adebayor also played for both clubs but failed to leave in good terms for either. No wonder he is now a Spud.
4.Despite all the legendary players, neither clubs have won a European Champions Cup/Champions League. Both teams have reached one Champions League Final and both finals took place in the last decade (AS Monaco in 2004 and Arsenal in 2006 respectively).
5.Both teams have gone through a similar season so far. While fans of neither side can complain about their European campaign, the domestic season has been disappointing for both. Arsenal climbed up to third place last weekend but stand twelve points below league leaders Chelsea while AS Monaco stand in fourth place with a seven point gap between them and Olympique Marseille with Monaco having a game in hand.
6.Injuries, weird referee decisions at their expense, missed chances that cost points, conceded goals that should have been avoided… Does it sound familiar? Well, both Arsenal and AS Monaco have gone through the same pain this season. There was a great comment by a Monaco fan about that weird coincidence of bad luck. He said: „I have a feeling that Arsenal, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund are one club that plays in three different leagues.“
7.Both teams play in red and white.
8.AS Monaco won the Emirates Cup tie between the sides in August. Radamel Falcao – who is on loan at Manchester United – scored a header after Joao Moutinho’s perfect cross from a free-kick. Although, who knows what would have happened had the referee saw that Chuba Akpom was fouled in the box and not just outside of it. It should be said that Monaco did look better on that day, more organized and cohesive.
It’s not going to be an easy game as the visitors have a lot of talented and strong players like Geoffrey Kondogbia and Yannick Carrasco. They have conceded just one goal during the Group Stage which is the main reason why they won their group despite scoring just four goals in six games. It seems that Layvin Kurzawa and Carrasco are major doubts for the game while veteran midfielder Jeremy Toulalan is suspended which should help our cause. The absence of Carrasco and Kurzawa will reduce the danger from the wings as the visitors have impressive counter-attacks.
Our team for the match might go through a slight rotation.
Wojciech Szczesny may return between the sticks as David Ospina didn’t give his best performance against Crystal Palace and also picked up a minor injury. Szczesny usually reacts well after spending some time on the bench. Let’s hope that will be the case again.
Hector Bellerin might return to the starting line-up as he posseesses a lot more pace than Calum Chambers.
Nacho Monreal seems to be Arsene Wenger’s first choice for the left full-back position so he should get a nod again.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are going to start in the middle of the defence again.
Francis Coquelin is a no-brainer as the shield of the back four.
Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil will create trouble in the final third for our opponents with the Spaniard operating a bit deeper than the German.
Theo Walcott scored his last Champions League goal against the French club Olympique Marseille but Wenger might still go with Danny Welbeck on the wing as the former Manchester United man was involved in both of our goals against Crystal Palace last weekend.
Alexis Sánchez will start on the left wing again. The Chilean has scored a goal in each of his four home games in the Champions League (including the match against Bešiktaš) this term so there is no reason why he wouldn’t keep that fine tradition.
Olivier Giroud is likely to spearhead the attack one more time. The Frenchman has enjoyed a great campaign – aside from a nasty injury – and looks like a top-drawer striker.
The quality is on our side, the visitors have even more problems with injuries than we do so we should muster a good result before the return leg. 2:0 would be just fine with goals from Alexis and Giroud looking like a reasonable prediction.
Bellerin Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Monreal
Welbeck Giroud Alexis
Arsenal 2 v 0 AS Monaco