Starting XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Welbeck, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Walcott, Chambers, Flamini, Gabriel
Glorious failure was the name of the game for Arsenal yet again in the Champions League as Arsene Wenger’s men beat Monaco 2-0 at the Stade Louis II, only to exit on a 3-3 aggregate defeat thanks to the away goals rule.
Olivier Giroud put the Gunners ahead in the first half and Aaron Ramsey came off the bench to put a miraculous result within touching distance, but with the clock ticking and legs tiring the Emirates outfit couldn’t find the third goal that would have secured progress to the quarter-finals.
Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started against West Ham on Saturday with Hector Bellerin replacing Calum Chambers at right-back and Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck replacing Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Gabriel, back from a hamstring problem, replaced Chuba Akpom on the bench.
All the attention was on Arsenal to make a fast start, but it was Monaco who started with a swagger, knocking the ball around before Joao Moutinho found room to fire over on 3 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the home side to start slowing the match down at every opportunity. Players stayed down a little longer than necessary and re-starts were dawdled over.
As was the case in the first-leg, Monaco were more than happy to let Coquelin have the ball, but as soon as an Arsenal player in a more advanced position took possession, the challenges snapped in. They looked disciplined and eager, but eventually the doubts crept in and Leonardo Jardim’s side edged deeper into their own half.
Arsenal began to create chances. On 14 minutes, Ozil and Sanchez freed Bellerin whose cross was headed wide by Giroud. The Frenchman held his head in his hands knowing he should have done better.
Not long after Cazorla had a volley blocked at close quarters by Kurzawa and then Koscielny, albeit with a flag signalling him offside, crashed against the bar from a couple of yards after a set piece from the left wing fell to him.
More good build up play down the right saw Bellerin whip in a cross to the back post where Welbeck cushioned a header to Giroud. The striker, increasingly frustrated by the attentions of Tunisian centre-back Abdennour, battled for the ball but it just wouldn’t drop for him.
On 35 minutes our striker finally found the breakthrough. After a delicate through pass by Welbeck – found by Cazorla after a great steal by Alexis – the HFB found himself one-on-one with keeper Subasic, He tried to lift the ball, but it was half blocked and bounced back to him. At the second time, following a balletic pirouette, he picked his spot and rifled into the roof of the net. It was a fine finish given two Monaco players were on the line. (1-0)
The Gunners injected with confidence picked up the pace and two minutes later could have had a second. Abdennour fielded a long ball with his head to the edge of the box where Welbeck stood waiting. The England man made a sweet connection but his fizzing effort deflected off the floored Tunisian and just wide. It’s fair to say the defender knew little about it.
Arsenal continued to tighten the screw. A coming together between Alexis and Monaco’s Nabil Dirar sent the Chilean sprawling on the edge of the box. He cried for a penalty, but instead was booked for diving. It would have been a generous.
Welbeck was having a great great and his pace caused no end of problems. Twice in first half stoppage time our hero of Old Trafford raced through the inside channel to fire dangerous balls across the six-yard box. The first hit Giroud and was grabbed by keeper Subasic, the second fell straight to him.
The Gunners kept up the high tempo as they went in search of a second early in the second period. Giroud snatched at an early effort and Ozil tested Subasic with a free-kick that was heading into the top corner.
Monaco fought back with a ten minute spell of pressure, then called time on their push by replacing Anthony Martial with Yannick Ferreira Carrasco; the scorer of their third goal at the Emirates.
Chasing two goals in the final half hour, Arsene Wenger sent on Aaron Ramsey in place of Francis Coquelin. The Welshman’s first action was a typical dynamic push down the right that ended with an Ozil shot flashing just wide.
The absence of Coquelin’s calming influence the game became a more frantic end-to-end affair. Berbatov went off to be replaced by Bernardo Silva, Walcott then came on for Welbeck.
After a prolonged period of possession we found a timely second on 79 minutes. After Walcott hit the post following a fine Monreal cutback, Monaco’s defence failed to clear the ball and Ramsey took one touch before despatching the ball into the back of the net. (2-0)
In a final throw of the dice Kieran Gibbs came on for Nacho Monreal. As the left-back made his way onto the pitch Cazorla tossed in a free-kick that both Giroud and Sanchez made contact with at the back post. It took a diving save from Subasic to deny the duo. From some angles, it even looked over the line.
It was the closest Arsenal came to securing a miracle result. Five minutes of injury time proved incredibly frustrating as ball after ball was cleared from the box by Monaco’s defence.
Despite a fantastic performance on the night we were, as so many feared, felled by our disastrous first-leg performance at the Emirates. We really need to learn not to assume two-leg ties need to be won in the opening 90 minutes. It would save us all a lot of stress and bother.