Arsenal meet Monaco on Wednesday night at the Emirates in the Champions league round of 16. The fixture carries more importance and weight than a normal round of 16 tie.
Of course all matches in the Champions League are important but this time around for the first time in several years we go into the tie as favourites. That’s not to underestimate Monaco, but they are no Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.
Despite our quite laudable achievement of continuous participation in the competition it has to said that we are not a genuine European heavyweight. However, all that could change with this game. I am not saying we are going to win the competition, but progression is important and that will help us in the years to come.
For a team to achieve in Europe I believe it should get the following priorities right:
Clean sheet is paramount
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We all know the importance of away goals in this competition and for a team to stand a chance of winning the Champions league, keeping clean sheets especially at home is vital.
We only have to look at our last two seasons to realise the damage the away goals did to our progress. So its imperative that we win the home tie and more importantly win it by not conceding goals.
Monaco will look to keep it tight and hit us on the counter. It’s up to us to break their parsimonious defence and at the same time we should keep things tight at the back. There is no point in scoring three and conceding two.
If you ask me I would say a drab 0-0 is better than a 2-1 win.
Arsenal must find a way against pressing
While most teams struggle against the opposition pressing high up the pitch, Arsenal completely lose the plot. Our game is so much dependent on us building from the back and disrupting that rhythm affects our play.
One needs to look no further than the Borussia Dortmund game early in the campaign, when the Germans stifled our play so much and we were lucky to lose only 2-0. It’s not a one off game.
Tottenham Hotspur outplayed us at White Hart Lane using the same tactic while last weekend Crystal Palace almost got a reward for their efforts.
If Palace and Spurs could cause us so much damage imagine what would happen against the likes of Bayern, Atletico Madrid or Real. In order to progress further Arsenal should find a way to overcome this issue and eliminate their all too frequent errors they commit in such games.
Play on the break
Arsenal not so long ago used to be the masters of possession that necessarily didn’t translate into dominance. We try and play our game irrespective of the opposition and more often than not we end up losing the game against the big teams.
This season though there seems to be a change of tactic from Arsene Wenger. We don’t hog the ball so much as we used to, we are playing deeper and hitting teams with our pace. The change hasn’t always worked, but Manchester City away is the best example when everything clicks.
Arsenal have to perfect this style and they have the players suitable to this type of game. In Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey Arsenal have willing runners and in Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla we have the ideal passers for feeding the runners.
With Olivier Giroud in the side there is also the option of going long if needed. Our defence also plays better when we defend the six yard box especially Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal.
I am not sure Arsenal will win the competition any time soon although I would be glad to be proved wrong. We have a great opportunity to progress and let’s make sure we don’t bottle this up. This team is definitely worth more than just a place in the last 16.
Come on you Gunners.