Yesterday evening I watched Le Boss’ press conference and I couldn’t help but think:
Why is Danny Welbeck there?
It also got me asking myself the question on a more broader scale, because modern day footballers are so media trained to the ‘nth’ degree these days, that to avoid having their words twisted by the media, they regurgitate the same responses regardless of the question. Playing press conference bingo with footballers is easier than playing Arsène presser bingo! Just replace Arsènisms with phrases like “give 100%”, “looking forward to the game” and “yeah-no, I think it will be a tough game”.
Anyway, enough minor digs at one of our heroes, who also happens to be many years younger than me and so makes me feel a little weird if I’m honest. It’s time to prepare thee and me for tonight’s game.
This won’t be easy. At the risk of extreme hypocrisy and trotting out the tired clichés I’ve just scoffed at, now that we’re into the knockout stages of the competition is when the teams and the results are more closely matched, so I don’t expect a simple hammering of Villa proportions if I’m honest. Arsène said as much himself, whilst also noting that whilst Monaco don’t score many goals, they haven’t been conceding many either.
Their success was built on a foundation of clean sheets and their record in their domestic competition would suggest that they will also be arriving at The Emirates tonight with a good degree of confidence. I know they’ve got fitness concerns over a few players like Carvalho, for example, but they’ll still be able to field a strong team and I’d expect them to come for a clean sheet tonight. I don’t want to do Monaco a disservice, but I see them as very similar to the situation Middlesbrough were at when they visited us a few weeks ago. Towards the top of their respective league, success built on stability from the back and confidence high because of their form in their own division. Middlesbrough came to our gaff in the same mind set.
Of course we know that Ligue 1 is a technically better league than the Championship, as well as the fact that Monaco are technically a better team than Middlesbrough, so I expect them to adopt a similar game plan with probably better results than Middlesbrough did in the FA Cup.
That game relied on Middlesbrough frustrating us for at least the first half I suspect, so when we scored two goals in that first half, it effectively threw out any game plan Karanka had on the day, so I think a quick start determines how the game pans out tonight. If we score within the first 20 minutes it wil breed more confidence in the team. Hopefully it will foster a belief that we can score more. But the only thing we need to be mindful of is the fact that unlike Middlesbrough’s need to take chances because of the fact it was a single game knockout, Monaco don’t need to take as many chances, because of the return leg. So a 1-0 defeat is by no means insurmountable and as a result I don’t see Monaco looking to catch us out.
We need to be smart. Good game management tonight is more important than anything else. If we get an early goal, then great, but the team need to be mature enough to know that this needs to be a probing type of game, not one in which caution is thrown to the wind.
The managers choices are tough. Defensively I’d expect him to stick with Ospina, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Monreal and Bellerin. In midfield you have to assume that Coquelin will sit at the base of the three, with Santi alongside him. With no Wilshere on the bench or in the squad tonight, picking the first seven players from the back going forward is easy. But the creative players will be hard. Özil is looking sharper with every game and is the sort of player you want if a team sits deeper and needs to be unpicked like a door by a cat burglar with his clever and close passing. You’d expect Giroud to start in the form that he’s currently in, along with one of the players of the season in Alexis, but who occupies the final position in the three? Walcott for end-product and pace? Welbeck for his engine and build up play (he hasn’t been in the goals but he always contributes)? Or maybe Arsène throws a curveball and gives Rosicky the nod for his quick transition from front to back that he gives the team?
I suspect it will be Welbeck that is preferred, as he’s got the best engine, but if Monaco are sitting deep and not giving space, I’d love to see what Rosicky can offer. To me, Walcott is the perfect player for the away leg, catching Monaco on the break with his pace, but I just don’t see there being that much space for him this evening. So I wouldn’t be starting him.
We’ll know soon enough. This is the type of match we want to be part of in the Champions League, so we need to enjoy it, but right now I’d take 90 minutes of turgid football for a 2-0 victory.
Come on The Arsenal!