Without being disrespectful to Monaco they were seen as one of the easier group winners for Arsenal to get in the draw with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as possible alternatives. Monaco did win their group though with Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St. Petersburg and Benfica to contend with. Their record in that group was hardly astounding and their qualification was only assured when they won their final game 2-0 at home to Zenit.
The most impressive thing about their group performance was their defensive record where they only conceded one goal in their six games. They might have only scored four goals in those six games which normally would be nowhere near enough to win a Champions League group, but that defensive record is one to be proud of for them. Arsenal weren't exactly quite so good in defence in their group where they let in eight goals, but they did score 15 times.
Monaco have continued with that defensive strength in the French league and have steadily climbed the table on the back of clean sheet after clean sheet. If I'm not mistaken they have nine clean sheets in their last 10 games and it's going to be a really tough task for Arsenal to open their defence up. Arsenal have some attacking options which Monaco don't come up against on a weekly basis though and they will be stretched to contain players like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.
It's not too easy to judges the two teams relative strengths based on their Champions League records. While Monaco's group might be said to have been average the same has to be said about Arsenal's group too. Dortmund won the group but they have spent the season in the relegation places in Germany while Galatasary were just awful and a plucky Anderlecht really should have been out of their depth, but displayed a lot of skill and commitment to finish third.
I don't expect Arsene Wenger to make too many changes from the team which just about won away to Palace on Saturday, but I have a feeling Theo Walcott will come in for Danny Welbeck. It might be more than a little unfair on Welbeck if Walcott does play, but I think his pace might just be a factor for Arsenal on the night. Welbeck contributes an awful lot to the team when he plays, but Walcott is deserving of a place too and I think he might just get his chance.
Other than that I don't expect to see any changes and I hope to see Arsenal take the game to Monaco to try to build up a precious lead in the home leg. Arsenal have won their last nine home games in a row in all competitions and are making the Emirates a real fortress after a slow start to the season on their home patch. I think the players they have are revelling in the open spaces at home and sometimes find it a lot harder away from home when the opposition can limit the space they get and close them down very quickly.
The Champions League is a stage set for the likes of Alexis and Ozil to thrive and I expect to see those two players get plenty of the ball along with Cazorla of course. I've been so impressed by Ozil since his return from injury and it looks like the rest he got did him a world of good. His passing in the final third is second to none and he continually creates chances for others no matter who the opposition might be. If Arsenal can capitalise on some of the chances he makes against Monaco they might just give themselves the edge they want.
I don't expect Monaco to be overly interested in attacking and they will be very happy if the game finishes as a boring 0-0 draw. That wouldn't be the worst result for Arsenal either, but a score draw would give Arsenal some real problems in the return leg in three weeks time. I think they can do enough to get a narrow victory tonight and I hope they keep a clean sheet to with it. If Monaco have to attack Arsenal in the second leg it might just open the way for Arsenal to use their pace on the break and secure a slot in the quarter finals.
The next few weeks are going to be very busy for Arsenal with the FA Cup quarter final at United as well as three league games to contend with before that return trip to Monaco. The right performance and result tonight would set them up nicely to hopefully progress against United and galvanise their current third place in the league. You can never be certain with this Arsenal team but the graph certainly seems to be moving in the right direction and the chance is there for them to continue that tonight.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.