16 March 2015

AS Monaco: Chelsea's stingier, more-stubborn bus-parkers.

First, the bad news: AS Monaco haven't conceded more than two goals in a single match since Bordeaux blitzed them 4-1 back in August. Since then, they've conceded two goals just twice—two weeks ago against PSG in the Coupe de France and back in November against mid-table Rennes. Against that back-drop, our task on Tuesday looks all the more daunting, especially given the fact that all Monaco has to do advance is to not lose by three goals. As with Chelsea, we can expect them to hunker down, defending their area with eight or nine defenders, and dare us to find a goal. An opponent already committed to defending tooth and nail has all the more reason to do on Tuesday. This brings us, eventually, to the good news. Bear with me...

AS Monaco's 2013-14 campaign was its best in more than a decade, finishing second in Ligue 1, the club's best finish since 2002-03. Continuing with the bad news, that side reached the Champions League final only to fall 0-3 to Porto (managed by Mourinho, for what that's worth). I'm not one for facing off against distant history, though, so I'll leave it at that.

More to the point, it's worth noting that this year's Monaco model jettisoned all three of its most-prolific attackers, selling James Rodríguez to Real Madrid and Emmanuel Rivière to Newcastle and "loaning" Radamel Falcao to Manchester United. In so doing, they deprived themselves of 34 of 77 goals scored last season, leaving Dimitar Berbatov to lead the line, which he did do quite well against us in the first leg. Along the way, they've exposed themselves as a stingier Chelsea: quite content to park the bus and dare opponents to score against them. If there's a difference, it comes from a juxtaposition: Chelsea stockpile attacking options; Monaco shed them.

However, denying this opponent scoring chances isn't really the issue. We have to find ways to score and to score in spades. Much has been made of Monaco's stinginess, and most of that is well-deserved. Any club that can win its Champions League group while scoring just four goals deserves respect, albeit grudging. We can't really look to that defeat at the hands of Bordeaux for much inspiration, but we can look to more-recent results.

For one, let's admit that the 1-3 loss was a bit of an aberration. Kongobdia's goal came from 40 yards out and on a deflection, and that changed the game. The second, of course, came through indefensibily "suicidal" defending as we desperately sought an equaliser, and the same can be said of the third.

Finally, finally, the good news: Monaco should have zero-interest in getting forward to score. Zero. If they do foray forward, so much the better for us, as getting forward is not what they do well. Like Chelsea, they specialise in defending in numbers, negating and nullifying. By contrast with Chelsea, they don't have creative, attacking types like Hazard, Costa, or Fabregas. As such, we can look forward to what might appear on the surface to be a dour, defensive match. Then again, we experienced our best spell of football against this very side when it had nothing to but defend. Already ahead 0-2 in that first leg, after all, all that was left for Monaco to do was to preserve the lead. They had one job. They failed. Oxlade-Chamberlain found the goal that would make the second leg a bit more manageable. Chasing an equaliser, however, we exposed ourselves and Monaco capitalised, and that's where things now stand: 1-3.

In other words, it does look bleak on its face—how do we score three (or more) against a squad that has only conceded more than twice just once? I hesitate to dredge up ancient history, but it does feel worth a mention: when we went into Allianz Arena at around this time in 2013, Bayern Munich were on a similarly stout run, having conceded just six goals in its previous 16 matches. Monaco, for all its fortitude, couldn't deny us when it mattered most, when they had all but secured advancement thanks to two away-goals. If we can play for longer stretches with the intensity we showed in the minutes that led to Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal—if we can avoid that "suicidal" defending that led to conceding twice against Monaco, well, we'll be on our way to the quarter-final.

Stranger things have happened, after all...

Add your two cents in the comments-section, and don't be afraid of a shout-out via the twitter, reddit, or facebook links below. In any case, thanks for stopping by! 'Til next time...


  1. I don't know if I've ever seen a more cynical side than Chelsea but Monaco do come close. They might be a bit shrewder but the tactics on the pitch are all too familiar: don't concede, no matter what. We have to dump Monaco out, no questions asked, if we expect positive, attractive football to progress.

  2. I just hope that we go through, because I have had enough of this heroic losing nonsense; there is no heroic loss against Monaco. If we go out and beat them 0-2, so what? It's not like we beat the team that's going to go on and win the tournament, again no offence intended. The loss against Monaco hit me harder than even the 0-6 thrashing away to Chelsea last season; it was a horrible night and it seems to have equally hurt the rest of the fan base. No, I didn't expect to beat Monaco easily at all, there defensive record speaks for itself, but I did expect it to be a close two legged affair, with maybe one goal in the difference, I certainly didn't expect either team to be virtually out of the competition after the first leg.

    I had high hopes for this seasons European campaign, not necessarily that they would win it, but that we would put in a good showing. I can accept losing to a better team, but I just don't accept what happened three weeks ago, it wasn't good enough. It's time for the players to stand up now and give the fans the result they deserve.

    Our away fans have been excellent again this season, (the fact that Spurs couldn't sell there allocation on a Sunday afternoon and we managed to bring 9,000 on a Monday night to Old Trafford, speaks volumes), and they will all be out there again tomorrow night hoping we go through. The way I see it, we are out of the competition and we need to score at least 3 goals to qualify. I think that's the way the players should look at it.

    I really think that there is a good chance we could beat Monaco 3-0, think about it; forget the first leg ever happened, if we were playing them tomorrow in that first leg and won 3-0, would many people be that surprised? No I don't think so. Let's just go out there and get the result that I think we're more than capable of getting. After all, wouldn't that also be the most Arsenal thing ever?

  3. No away team has ever overturned a two-goal deficit in a Champions League knockout round match. Then again, no English team had won in the Bernabeu. Monaco’s home record is the second best in the Champions League, bettered only by Real Madrid. Yes, the same ones who call the Bernabeu home.

    To win, Arsenal will have to summon the spirit of performances where victories forged in the unlikeliest of circumstances. They need the free-scoring of trips to Turkey and they certainly need to forget that they have only kept a clean sheet three times in their last thirty or so away European matches.

    That’s a truly horrible record and the one fundamental flaw that stops me thinking that we willprogress. At 1 – 2 in the first leg, I was confident that despite the calamitous performance, we could recover. 1 – 3 is such a difficult margin to overturn. Of course we can do it; we can win 7 – 0, it doesn’t mean to say we will. We can equally lose 5 – 1 but there’s no more guarantee of that than Arsenal winning by three goals.

    It’s a night when you can be relatively relaxed about the outcome. I’ve already accepted we’re out, anything more is a bonus. More than that, in fact. Less than expecting an exit from the competition isn’t possible so there’s nothing to lose. Except dignity.

    I don’t accept winning 2 – 0 is a glorious failure; how can it be after the first leg but the post-mortem can wait until it is needed. We want Arsenal to go out with some style, a brash attacking performance. It isn’t a night where they can hold back and be defensive for the first twenty minutes or so, that’s when they need to get doubts planted firmly into the minds of the Monégasque back four.

    Wariness comes from not being gung-ho, to have the calm experience to ensure that the back four is properly protected. Coquelin is pivotal in this. Graphics showed his average position against West Ham was almost on the centre spot. It’s the position that we expect a defensive midfielder to hold, one where there was a sense of adventure but it was wholly tempered and played out in his passing.

    Possession will be key. Monaco proved in the first leg to be vulnerable; Arsenal wasted chances and were punished efficiently. Can that type of rope-a-dope be reprised tonight? It’s a tall order, this time it is will be a case of starving Arsenal of space, banks of four or five lying deep to neutralise the runs; an all too familiar formation.

    They could surprise us and play unshackled but everything you sense from their players and coach is that they know they are in a good position and failure would be viewed as catastrophic. It’s this theme Arsenal must tap into and the sooner, the better.

    Olivier Giroud has been a focal point of the build-up to the match. He had possibly the worst night of his Arsenal career in the first leg, unceremoniously hooked from proceedings having made his own significant contribution to Danny Baker’s next DVD collection of football howlers.

    A man with a mission for the second leg? I hope so; he’s been in good form in the Premier League and needs to back up his manager’s assertions that his mental strength is such that he can cope with the disappointment. It’s a night when he needs to salvage his reputation with the French footballing public, to prove his worth to Les Bleus.

  4. I don't put much into history, even if recent second-legs have been so great , okay almost great for us. We're not playing vs history, we're playing vs AS Monaco and they're ordinary footballers that refuse to attack unless they have to. They got one fluke goal and two moments of madness from us. that migth make them look like worldbeaters, but they're not. they carry a huge advantage but are hardly as good as that scoreline says. Like you say, if we can go in the confidence and the freedom from pressure we need, we can make anything happen. this squad has erupted for bucketloads of goals here and there and I don't see why it can't happen today.

  5. I hope you are right :-)

  6. Arsenal dug themselves a very deep hole and must now prove that they have the mental strength to overcome their own failings not Monaco. The 1st goal was a fluke, but those occur all the time (witness the Liverpool goal yesterday), the next two came from a panic mentality and a lack of understanding that this is a, to quote Arsene, a 180 minute match. The worse they played, the more they lost their composure until they fell apart.

    I do not believe, given that Monaco proved themselves disciplined and aware of what is at stake, that Arsenal can overcome the deficit. This does not mean it cannot happen nor that I do not wish it will. However, ...........


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