Arsenal vs. Monaco: Champions League Preview


Arsene Wenger will take lead Arsenal against his former club AS Monaco in the 2014-2015 Champions League Round of 16.

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  • After Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought Monaco in 2011, they were destined to become the next designer football club that would amass a collection of world class talent.

    After hiring Claudio Ranieri, who led Monaco back into France’s highest division, Rybolovlev signed world class players including center forward Falcao, central midfielder Joao Moutinho, attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, and up-and-coming French central midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.

    These players led Monaco to a second place finish in the 2013-14 Ligue 1, and were to set the foundation for another round of player acquisitions which would allow Monaco to compete with PSG in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League. However, in May of 2013 Rybolovlev divorced from his wife and in the settlement was forced to give his now ex-wife £2.7 billion, altering the plans he had for Monaco.

    After the divorce, Rodriguez was sold to Real Madrid, Falcao was loaned to Manchester United with an option to buy, and Moutniho has handed in a transfer request with the intention of leaving during the upcoming January transfer window.

    In an attempt to compensate for their loss of world class players Monaco have played reactive football, only retaining 43.9-percent of the ball throughout their Champions League group stage matches. Monaco, with limited scoring opportunities, won Group C by scoring only four goals and allowing only one in six matches.

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  • Monaco play a compact and narrow 4-2-3-1 that morphs into a 4-4-2 in the defensive phase, with their starting ex-Manchester United center forward Dimitar Berbatov dropping deep next to their best, and most creative player Joao Moutinho.

    If Moutinho is sold during the January transfer window expect Anthony Martial to partner Berbatov, who would play as a support striker, with Martial leading Monaco’s attack. Their wingers look to press opposition fullbacks when they gain possession of the ball and when they do not have the ball, they push into center midfield to support their central midfielders.

    They look to counter into space against exposed and open defenses. Recently, Monaco have started Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Nabil Dirar as their wingers with Lucas Ocampos, their former starter and Chelsea transfer target, coming off of the bench.

    Monaco’s central midfield is anchored by the experienced Jeremy Toulalan who has played in multiple Champions Leagues with Malaga and Lyon. Toulalan will be partnered by Geoffrey Kongdogbia, who is scheduled to return from a torn thigh muscle in January. Kongdogbia is a physically imposing, athletic, and technically skilled midfielder who can single handedly boss a central midfield.

    Monaco possesses a collection of fullbacks with rightback Fabinho and leftback Layvin Kurzawa as their more attack minded options, while Andrea Raggi is a converted centerback who can play on either flank and is much more conservative with his positioning.

    If Raggi is not playing as a fullback, he will play in Monaco’s defensive line and will be partnered by ex-Chelsea and ex-Real Madrid centerback Roberto Carvalho, Aymen Abdennour, Wallace, and Toulalan, who they have dropped deep into their defensive line. If Toulalan is dropped deep he would be replaced in central midfield by Tiemoue Bakayoko.

    “To exploit Monaco’s high defensive line and to attack them when their opposition is open, Arsenal will play a more direct style of possession football to attack Monaco when they are at their weakest…”

    To exploit Monaco’s high defensive line and to attack them when their opposition is open, Arsenal will play a more direct style of possession football to attack Monaco when they are at their weakest.

    Danny Welbeck will get the nod as Arsenal’s starting center forward because he is more comfortable playing higher up the field than Olivier Giroud. Welbeck is technically superior and varies his position more than the Frenchman.

    Also, he is a better athlete, allowing him to make threatening runs into the space provided by Monaco’s high defensive line. With Aaron Ramsey expected to be healthy, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin would start as wingers with Theo Walcott as the first option off of the bench.

    All three offer the directness to exploit Monaco’s high defensive line but Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlin offer greater technical ability and are more integrated into Arsenal’s system.

    If Monaco plays their more attack minded fullbacks, Fabinho or Kurzawa, Arsenal’s wingers must track their runs, as they both create regular scoring opportunities.

    If Arsenal sign no holding midfielders during the January transfer window, Mikel Arteta will be responsible for transitioning the ball from midfield to defense and will regularly drop deep into Arsenal’s defensive line to form a back three and give Arsenal an extra passing option from deep.

    He is rather comfortable with the offensive responsibilities but struggles mightily with his defensive duties. Arteta is now 32-years-old and on multiple occasions his lack of energy and pace has been exploited by teams, especially on the counter attack when Arsenal is open.

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  • Arsenal’s fullbacks must balance attack with defense as they are responsible for providing width to their narrow attack, but Monaco anticipate and prefer to attack against advanced fullbacks who allow space behind them. Per Mertesacker will be Arsenal’s most important defender as it will be his responsibility to provide defensive cover in the space behind Arsenal’s high defensive line.

    Arsenal will host Monaco at the Emirates Stadium on February 25th and Monaco will host Arsenal on the return leg on March 17 at the Stade Louis II.