Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Arsenal Have A Mountain To Climb In Monaco

First things first and Arsenal found out last night that they will face Reading in their FA Cup semi final after the Championship side beat Bradford 3-0 last night in their replay. The game is to be played at Wembley on the weekend of April 18/19 with the winners playing the winners of the other semi final between Villa and either Blackburn or Liverpool. It's a clear path to the final for Arsenal and they have to be favourites to retain the trophy as it stands.

Before they can even think about that game there's plenty to fight for in the league with second place up for grabs and the bare minimum of qualifying for next season's Champions League to be settled too. At the moment Arsenal are the form side in the Premier League, but Liverpool are looking pretty good too with nine games left to play. It looks like it could be a hard fought tussle from second to fifth place with the two Manchester clubs involved also.

Of course there's the little matter of this season's Champions League to contend with first and that brings us to tonight's game in Monaco. After the first leg Arsenal face an enormous task to make it through to the quarter finals, but they still have a chance no matter how slight it is. If they're going to overcome Monaco they have to score a minimum of three goals tonight and that is no easy task against a side with Monaco's defensive record.

Monaco won their group with a fantastic defensive effort when they conceded only one goal in their six games. They might have only scored four goals in those games, but allied with their defensive record it was enough to take top spot in the group. When they came to the Emirates last month we expected a solid defensive performance from them, but nobody expected them to score three goals on the night.

They were of course helped by a woeful Arsenal performance and some terrible defending by the home team, but they also showed they have an eye for goal when they get the chance. The first goal they got might have taken a deflection to beat David Ospina, but they hit Arsenal perfectly with swift counter attacks to score the other two goals. They will look to defend in numbers again tonight and are bound to look for the exact same opportunities on the break.

As good as Monaco's defence is they still gave up plenty of chances to Arsenal and on another night Arsenal might have got a draw with a little luck and some better finishing. Olivier Giroud has been in excellent form since returning from injury, but he had a nightmare in the first leg. He could have had four goals and most definitely should have had one when he put a fairly simple rebound over the bar.

To be fair to Giroud he has come back from that game and scored the opening goal in each of Arsenal's three league games since then. He will more than likely lead the line tonight and hopefully he can go some way towards making amends for that first leg performance. He has shown some real courage to come back so strong from that performance and hopefully that strength will be to the fore tonight.

I don't expect too many changes from the team that beat West Ham on Saturday and the only change to the squad will be the return of the fit again Gabriel Paulista for Chuba Akpom. I would imagine Santi Cazorla will return to the starting line up and it's a matter of either Aaron Ramsey or Theo Walcott missing out I suppose. Ramsey would give the team more strength alongside Francis Coquelin in the centre of midfield, but Walcott offers more width and is more than capable of getting in behind the Monaco defence. He showed that on Saturday against West Ham, but unfortunately he missed three very good chances. 

In defence I think there's a real case for including either Calum Chambers or Gabriel in the centre alongside Laurent Koscielny to utilise their pace. Monaco are going to get chances to take Arsenal on the break and both of them have a lot more pace than Per Mertesacker. I'm not saying Mertesacker needs to be dropped permanently, but he might not be suited to the game Arsenal will have to play tonight. I would be surprised if Mertesacker didn't start though and I think Hector Bellerin will come in for Chambers, but otherwise the defence will be the same as it was on Saturday.

The personell on the night won't be the most important factor for Arsenal. If they're going to win the game by the scoreline they need it will be down to the performance those chosen for the game can put in. As good as Monaco were in the first leg they are not Invincible and Arsenal will make chances on the night. If they are going to progress they will have to be an awful lot better at putting those chances away than they were in the first leg and they will have to ride their luck defensively as they push forward in search of goals.

It's certainly not an impossible task, but it is highly unlikely that Arsenal will come out on top. That third goal Monaco scored in added time could be the one which makes the difference, but I at least want to see Arsenal give it a real go on the night. If they give their all don't go through then there's not too much more that can be asked of the players. The damage was done in that first leg and hopefully some if not all of that damage will be undone tonight. I'm not writing Arsenal off at all, but I'm not exactly getting my hopes up either.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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