Champions League Matchday and, to all intents and purposes, probably our last one of this season. But do you know what? I’ve made peace with that.
The defeat at home to a bang-average (in Champions League terms, that is) Monaco side on our own turf made tonight’s task all but impossible in name alone. So it means that the team really shouldn’t have the same weight of expectation as they did when we played the Ligue 1 side a few weeks back.
So my only real thoughts for this evening are that as long as we win tonight, it keeps our winning momentum going and we can hopefully maintain our confidence going into the final few furlongs of the season. I’m sorry if that sounds defeatist. It really isn’t meant to be, because I’d love nothing more than to see us progress in the competition, but I guess it’s my own internal defence mechanism to be knocked out to one of the easiest teams in the knockout stages.
Winning out there tonight is a so much more achieveable target. A 2-0 victory would be another ‘glorious defeat’, but at least we’d have some glory to hold on to. I’ll settle for that. But to do that away from home we’ll still need to play some good football tonight. The players will need to show more belief than I have, but they’re making the right noises, so that’s positive to see. Mesut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud have all joined Le Boss in calling for themselves and their teammates to fight for every minute of the game and I’m glad that they all feel fired up. The only hope is that we don’t get sucked into the same tactical naivety that clouded the judgement of so many in red and white at The Emirates.
Monaco don’t need to come at us. They can adopt the same tactics of countering and breaking up play that worked so well in the first leg. They know that as the game wears on we will be forced to take more risks and that will allow players to get more space to expose our back four. They have a beast in Kondogbia in the middle of the park and if he has another stormer then it’s going to be another tough ask for our offensive players to get in behind him and his defensive compatriots.
The good news is that we created chances in the first leg. A lot of chances. Giroud could – should – have had a hat trick at least and had he even put one away, we could be looking at less of an uphill challenge than we have. But he’s proven before and since that game that it was an isolated incident and after his man-of-the-match performance against West Ham, I’m convinced he’ll have a good game, providing he doesn’t try too hard in his native country. Perhaps he was guilty of trying to impress too much in the first leg, but he needs to be as natural as possible tonight, which will mean the goals will come naturally.
As for the rest of the team, you’d expect form to dictate the managers selection choices, so I’d be surprised if anybody other than Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Özil, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck are selected. The final name from that list was a difficult one to guess and Arsène could go for Rosicky or Walcott, but given Theo’s performance at the weekend I’d be surprised if he started. He was a little wasteful with his chances on goal and whilst he represents a good opportunity to get in behind defences, I think that Monaco will be compact and deep enough to negate his primary asset of pace. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for the quick-thinking of Rosicky, but he appears to have fallen off the managers radar of late, so again I think we’ll see Welbeck chosen ahead of those two. Especially given his cameo against West Ham that was so impressive following his goal at Old Trafford.
Watch tonight, try not to get stressed, then let’s see what happens. That’s my advice. Peace out.