Here it comes – the easiest match left on the schedule. It might sound a bit odd but Gunners have nothing to lose at Stade de Louis. If we lose on aggregate to the oil-rich side, it won’t be a huge surprise as we have a two-goal-deficit from the first leg. If we win on aggregate, however, it will be considered as a miracle that will make all our remaining opponents’ pants very dirty (which is, er, how miracles work).
Did I say we have a two-goal-deficit? Actually, it’s a three-goal-deficit as we must score at least three goals without reply to book our place in the quarterfinals. How difficult can that be, right?
Well, according to the records, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to do. If European Champions’ Cup and Champions’ League (excluding qualifiers) are taken into account, only five teams have managed to overcome the deficit from the first leg at home (AC Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax twice and Inter). Ajax have been the only one to overcome a two-goal-deficit…except they would have been eliminated under the current rules – they had lost the first leg at home to Benfica (1:3) before they won the second leg at Estadio de Luz thanks to Johann Cruyff’s brace (2:0) and earned the third one on the neutral ground which they won 3:0. As you might have noticed, under the current rules, Benfica would have gone through after the second leg on away goals.
In the recent years two teams did come close to make a sensational come-back though. In 2008-09, Liverpool lost the first leg against Chelsea at home (1:3). In the return leg Liverpool had had 2:0 and 4:3-lead but Chelsea spared themselves from blushes and the game ended 4:4.
Our favourite example was the one from 2012-13. After we had lost the first leg against Bayern at the Emirates (1:3), we were already dead and buried before the return leg. An early Giroud tap-in and late Koscielny header brought us close to a magnificent come-back but we couldn’t score the one last goal that would have stopped one of the most dominant sides in the history of football from taking their fifth European title. That match was a trailer for our incredible ten-match-run without a defeat in the league after which we pipped Spuds for the Champions’ League place despite being seven points behind.
Now, we go to Monte Carlo with the same deficit, except we are now seven points behind the leaders (they have a game in hand though) with nine league games remaining. Just sayin’…
Anyway, our next opponents are well-known for their bullet-proof defence. In terms of organization on the pitch, I see just one English club close to their level – Ronald Koeman’s Southampton. It’s no wonder I compare Southampton and Monaco as both teams rely on a perfect shield in the midfield that gives protection to the back four. Geoffrey Kondogbia and Jeremy Toulalan are likely to start tonight even if they’ve been mentioned as major doubts for the game. Kondogbia – just like Southampton’s Schneiderlin – is a player that most of the Gooners would like to watch at the Emirates next season.
If there is anything that should raise our optimism, it’s our record in France. We have won the last six games (Lens, Lyon, Auxerre, Olympique Marseille, Montpellier, Olympique Marseille) and never lost a match in France (W7D3L0). Vive la France indeed as we are still The Invincibles over La Manche!
Truth to be told, it’s going to be a difficult mission for our boys. Monaco have conceded just two goals in the Champions’ League this season and a team like PSG couldn’t score a goal in the league clash in Monte Carlo.
Our team for the game will go through some rotation.
David Ospina should remain our No. 1.
Hector Bellerin should return to the team after Calum Chambers’ solid yet not flawless display against West Ham.
Nacho Monreal should keep his place on the left side of the defence.
Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny might start in the defence tonight. Per Mertesacker had a shocker in the first leg against Monaco but also didn’t give the best performance against West Ham last weekend.
Francis Coquelin is undroppable. We haven’t had a defensive midfielder of his quality since Mathieu Flamini’s brilliant season 2007-08.
Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey might be Wenger’s choice for this game. Both of them were brilliant against The Hammers but also because Ramsey’s presence gives more steel in the midfield.
Theo Walcott wasn’t clinical enough against The Hammers but did find himself in the right positions. He should start on the right.
Alexis on the left wing is a no-brainer.
Olivier Giroud has some wrongs to right and he might score a goal or two tonight. His motive is unquestionable.
I’d go with a heroic performance and a 1:0 victory tonight thanks to a goal from Giroud. Even if we lose, it’s not the end of the world – we are in the FA Cup semifinals and sit on third place in the league just one point behind the second-placed Manchester City.
Bellerin Gabriel Koscielny Monreal
Walcott Giroud Alexis
AS Monaco 0 v 1 Arsenal