The Arsenal Champions League Story: A Bridge Too Far


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  • After a disastrous first leg 3-1 home loss, Arsenal had to produce one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history to rescue their campaign against an AS Monaco side which many expected would allow the North London side to return to the quarterfinals of the competition for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

    Impeding their progress stood a French club which had only conceded two away goals in seven Champions League matches, one home goal in their last 12 home matches, and coming into the match unbeaten in their last 16 home fixtures.

    After a calm opening 20 minutes Monaco began to play into the hands of Arsenal. They sat in a deep and narrow 4-4-2 press, always having nine men behind the ball with center forward Dimitar Berbatov languidly joining his teammates in defense.

    This allowed Arsenal to initiate pressure, attack down the flanks, and cross the ball towards Olivier Giroud, who struggles with the ball at his feet, especially against high lines, but can physically overpower a center back pairing with his size and power.

    Arsenal’s first chance came in the 14th minute when he was able to win a cross but failed to place his shot on target.

    With so many players deep Monaco began to struggle to clear the ball and retain possession allowing Arsenal to pile on pressure by intercepting Monaco’s clearance opportunities and quickly transitioning against an open defense.

    This led to Arsenal’s opening goal of the match scored by Giroud, who was attempting to make amends for the first leg where he wasted six goal-scoring opportunities. Arsenal needed Two Goals in 54 minutes.

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  • Two minutes later The Gunners were given an opportunity to cut their deficit in half when winger Danny Welbeck was given a free shot against an open goal that was only saved by an inadvertent deflection from Monaco central defender Aymen Abdennour.

    In stoppage time Arsenal again created a great scoring opportunity with Welbeck, who had flipped sides with Alexis Sanchez, making a barnstorming run down the right touchline before crossing the ball to a free Giroud who was not able to direct a tap-in into the goal to draw Arsenal within one goal of their needed victory.

    Arsenal had created the opportunities to level the match in the first half, but bad luck and the inability to convert left them still needing two goals, with only one half remaining in their 2014-15 Champions League lives.

    After halftime Monaco regained control of the match, they looked likely to comfortably extend their stay in the Champions League until the 79th minute when midfielder Aaron Ramsey was able to intercept a Monaco clearance attempt, and score Arsenal’s second goal of the match, leveling the tie at 3-3, with Monaco only ahead on goal difference. Arsenal needed One Goal in 11 minutes.

    Monaco, who had exhausted all of their energy chasing the shadows of Arsenal’s attacks, could barely retain possession and instead hurriedly cleared the ball to regain brief moments of respite, doing everything possible to hang on to their lead against returning waves of Arsenal attacks.

    Arsenal were gifted five minutes of extra time, however, they were unable to score the tie winning goal, and for the fifth season in a row, Arsenal exited the Champions League in the Round of 16.

    As with AC Milan in 2011-12 and Bayern Munich in 2012-13, Arsenal left themselves “A Bridge Too Far” after a lackluster first leg and again exit the Champions League Round of 16 with only a glorious defeat.

    Again, questions must be asked of manager Arsene Wenger. His unwillingness — to spend the money to sign a more lethal center forward and bring in a more resolute central defensive midfielder and center back — must be taken to task.

    Arsenal’s current course, which doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, must also be questioned and the idea of a boardroom shake up must seriously be considered if the club is going to take a place among the European elite.