I’d like to tell you that nothing could have prepared us for yesterday’s abomination of a performance from Arsenal at home to Monaco yesterday evening, but sadly we have a history littered with similar mistakes that have been perpetually repeated by Arsène Wenger’s team at this stage of the competition, for now the fourth year running.
The story is so similar it’s boring, but at least we’re all so not shocked that we’re stunned into silent disbelief, because we’ve been down this road before: first leg disaster, usually followed by glorious defeat in the second leg.
We are halfway through our round of 16 competition and, much like Bayern for the previous two years and AC Milan for the year before that, we have conspired to shoot ourselves in the foot and effectively give up our chances of going through to the next round. Am I being defeatist? You’re damn right I am, because when you get to the knockout stages of the competition you play teams that just don’t tend to concede three goals at home. Well, all except Arsenal, that is.
I can’t think of one player who came out of yesterday’s game with the merest of smidgens-worth of credit if I’m honest. Well, not one Arsenal player that is, because Monaco had some like Kondogbia who were brilliant. We were atrocious. But it wasn’t just the players who failed miserably to perform to any kind of standard that is warranted given their hefty wages and clear abilities, because the manager must also take a serious slice of the blame in the cold light of this Thursday morning post-mortem.
Arsène rarely sets his team’s up to negate the opposition and yesterday evening it showed. Monaco knew what Arsenal would do and set themselves up accordingly; they sat two midfielders deeper and mopped up the loose second ball (almost every time I can remember) every time Ospina kicked long, they played in a tight and compact unit when they didn’t have the ball, showing no intention to press our back four which resulted in an evening of sideways passing amongst defenders and whoever dropped deep to collect. Alexis was receiving the ball in his own half for most of that first half. That says it all really.
So tactically Monaco got it right, but the three goals they enjoyed were all with a little help from The Arsenal, as once again we proved that we are to defending what Madonna is to vertical balancing. Per Mertesacker – his worst game of the season so far I think – may have turned away from Kondogbia’s shot from 25 yards, but the fact that the Monaco player was given time to control, take a touch, set himself and strike is criminal at this level of the competition. The deflection meant that Ospina was wrong-footed and so perhaps he cannot be blamed, but the type of deflection it was looked to me like the kind of one that you see Cortouis or De Gea quickly shuffle their feet and save. That feels like why Ospina is not in that top bracket. It’s still early in his Arsenal career but I’m not sure he’s capable of making the type of save that makes you say “wow, how did he save that?”. He saves what you expect him to save.
Except for the second goal he didn’t. But again, he cannot shoulder 100% of the blame, because Monaco caught us on the counter and picked us off brilliantly thanks to the suicidal defending of Mertesacker. Watch the moment where the ball is squared to Berbatov. He’s only just made it in to his own half!! Shameful, shambolic and if Gabriel was not so raw in the league, you’d have to say a droppable offence from Big Per.
But it wasn’t just defensively that we were not at the races, because going forward was a nightmare of a performance too. Alexis lost the ball time and time again, Welbeck was a willing but ineffective runner, but Olivier Giroud was positively painful to watch. He had an absolute shocker, missing chance after chance and through his own profligacy, he has conspired with his defensive colleagues to cost us a place in the next round of the competition.
But even then, at 0-2 down and into injury time, we Arsenaled it up like only we can when the Ox’s fine strike gave us a glimmer of hope. See out the game at 1-2 and see what you can do in Monaco. That should have been the mantra. But mentally this team is like a side of under-11s sometimes and we were caught out trying to push too many people forward.
I haven’t mentioned the midfield yet, largely because it was non-existent. Özil was poor, Santi fared only slightly better and positional Coquelin was not great at times. Given the supposed strength of our squad I am hoping for some punishments to be dished out in the form of dropping some of the players for the game against Everton on Sunday. Some of those players who have won their place in the team need to be shown that it can be easily taken away from them. That is what started us on such a good run in all competitions since just before Christmas and now there needs to be some rotation to show the players out of the team that they have just as much chance to play. Rosicky, Walcott, The Ox, Gabriel, Szczesny, all need to be given a chance now.
The manager needs to have a look at himself this morning too. He needs to realise that he needs to prepare his players better and he needs to pay attention to the oppositions strengths and nullify them. But he won’t. We’ll repeat the same mistakes and we’ll find ourselves out of all competitions and pushing for a fourth place finish like we do every season. And who will be happy with that? The finance team, Stan and Arsène.
Then we go again next season with the same objectives. Qualify for the Champions League, get out of the group stages and then anything else is a bonus.
That’s not what the fans want Arsenal. We want those memories. We want you to make memories for us. That’s not going to happen with more displays like yesterday.