By Bulldog Drummond
This has been a season of a slow start and then reigniting the engines in winter.
We have won eight of the last nine matches in all competitions. We have won every home match since November, and the injuries are jogging along at an average level. It is something that can be seen in quite a few Arsenal seasons – and has sometimes led to trophies. No guarantee of that of course, but it is encouraging.
Mesut Ozil is doing his stuff with flair and some goals, Olivier Giroud continues to keep pace with Thierry Henry on a goals per game record from the start of his Arsenal career, and Theo Walcott is available – and scoring when given a chance.
So where is the worry? After all this is Arsenal. There must be a worry somewhere.
Of course… it is Alexis Sanchez who has gone five games without a goal. Shock, horror, panic, sell him etc etc etc. (I must say I just loved those guys who were saying a week or two back that we should drop Giroud. I don’t think people need detailed knowledge of football to enjoy a match and support a team, but really….)
February’s results show us having played five and won four. Scored 12, let in four. Fair enough.
January’s results were played five, won four. Scored 10, let in four.
Go back to December and it was played seven, won five, drawn one. Scored 17 let in nine.
This is decent form. Of course it could be better – even the Unbeaten Season could have been better, but it is still decent form. Played 17, won 13 across all competitions.
Monaco as the first preview of the game showed are also improving having adopted a George Graham post-1991 approach of the meanest defence and flimsiest attack, having let Radamel Falcao go to Manchester United on loan and sold James Rodriguez to Real Madrid, to try and sort out their FFP position.
And let’s not forget though that such a defensive approach gave us the Cup Double in 1993 – Graham’s final flourish. So as a tactic it can’t be dismissed.
And Monaco have Berbatov, of whom Mr Wenger says, “He may be 34 but he’s still playing at a very high level. Why? Because he has great technique. That’s what allows you to last. Is he a stronger player than 10 years ago? Certainly not. But he compensates with his game intelligence and anticipation in the penalty area.” On the other hand he’s only scored six league goals in 18 matches. But we know where he came from so he’ll want to score tonight.
As for the team, Jack Wilshere won’t play it seems Mr Wenger saying, “He was rested from training. He trained hard until now. No setback.” And as we know Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Abou Diaby (calf) and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) are unavailable. Serge Gnabry continues his rehabilitation after a very long lay off and is not being rushed.
Monaco have more worries than us, it seems. Left-back Layvin Kurzawa and forward Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco are reported as doubtful while midfielders Jeremy Toulalan and Tiemou Bakayoko along with Ricardo Carvalho and Andrea Raggi in defence are out. The moving around of the defence could help us, because that is what they consider to be their strong suit and they’d be delighted to keep us at zero or one goal.
Indeed Monaco only conceded one goal in the group stages… but only scored four.
|1||AS Monaco FC||6||3||2||1||4||1||3||11|
|2||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||6||3||1||2||7||4||3||10|
So for us it is a chance to over turn the run of recent years in which we have been knocked out at this stage. In the last four years we have suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and AC Milan. Time for that run to end.
But as Mr Wenger says, “It was always on goal difference or by one goal. It shows every single minute will be massively important. The last four years we came always out frustrated. We conceded three times a goal at home in the first 30 minutes. That was what knocked us out. We have learnt from that and we can show it.”
“I think with Monaco it’s even but even if we are considered favourites it’s not a problem. For me it’s a 50-50 game. We are 17 consecutive years in the Champions league. Easy is a word you have to ban in the Champions League. Every time we are in there, it was hard-earned wins. It’s always one goal you go out or stay in.
“There is a lot of stake, it’s the kind of games you want to play. We want to go to the end. Let’s do it step by step.
“I believe we are in a better shape. I am convinced of that. We feel as a team that we are on the way up and we can use the Champions League to confirm that. I look around Europe today and there are 10 teams who believe they can win it.