Having had some time to reflect on our painful defeat on Wednesday, I am feeling a bit more positive now. I reckon it was a reality check for almost all of us.
We are still a team that is looking for its true identity: some days we are brilliant, many days we are adequate and some days we are rubbish. And on Wednesday, as a team, we were bad, especially after we conceded the first goal. As long as Arsene does not get the midfield right, we will continue to have mixed performances.
We started slow but we were in control. There was a certain caution in our game and, given Monaco’s Portuguese style of play, which focuses hard on defending and breaking out quickly as soon as the ball is regained, that made sense – especially when we play a slow CB in the centre of our defence. I would have liked us to play a higher line and put more pressure on Monaco, with fast CBs – which would exclude Per on this occasion – as the best cover for their counter attacks; but leaving the BFG out of this big game was unlikely to happen. I would also have been happy with us playing deep and inviting them to come and attack us, for which Per would have been great of course. In the end we got a bit of both and it did not work out.
However, there is always an element of luck which determines the outcome of games: they scored with a deflection and we had our own man (Theo) blocking a sure goal from Welbeck. The Konogbia shot might have gone in without the deflection, but it was a big slice of luck for Monaco nevertheless. When you play a counterattacking team, nothing is worse than conceding the ‘away goal’ as the first one in a two-legged match. Playing in front of the home crowd means that sooner or later more risks will be taken, and that is exactly what the opponent was waiting for: and they punished us in style, it has to be said.
It was, of course, also a master class of how to play deep and on the counter; and, as we also witnessed when Monaco played against us in the Emirates Cup, their players are fit and strong, play with excellent team discipline and game plan, and are not afraid to make cynical fouls. As others have mentioned, the game had that horrible Mourinho feeling about it: it is the sort of football – not alien to us any more either – that sucks the life out of you, looks for your weaknesses and punishes you remorselessly. And they did.
Our game plan, a mixture of sitting semi-deep and pressing semi-high, did not work out. Wenger was right to have a go at our defending and we were also unlucky that Giroud had a bad-hair-day, as it could have been very different had he found the net early on, but I hope our long-in-the-teeth manager will also see that his game tactics did not work. I guess it is the fear of conceding an away goal against a strong defensive team that kept Arsene from going all out on attack; and I also reckon it is the belief in our own attacking strengths and qualities that kept us from playing the Monaco brand of footie.
On top of that, we just have not got the mix in midfield right to know what we can expect and deal with any opponent/tactics effectively. The Monaco midfield out-powered and out-witted ours and it was not the first time that we lost the battle in this crucial area this season. All our midfielders are great but getting the chemistry right in our 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 formations is proving to be Arsene’s biggest challenge again this season.
Ox scored the goal of the night and it could still be a very important one. But the way we conceded the last one, with our young Englishman at the root of it, was the most painful moment of this season for me. Now we have to score at least three times to go through, which is really one too many. But this result also forces Wenger’s hand in three weeks time; it allows our team to play to our natural instincts and playing culture. It is about all out attack and giving them hell: never time to settle and show them what the Arsenal are all about. It probably will not be enough to go through, but there is something else at stake here: our spirit, our backbone, our reputation, our pride.
Stand Tall And Make Us Proud Again.