Charlie Nicholas was just one of a number of retired footballers to heavily criticise Arsenal’s big names following their 3-1 first-leg defeat. During a rant on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, the former Gunner questioned why Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez regularly fail to deliver in crunch games. The Spanish midfielder would be right to feel aggrieved after single-handedly dragging Arsenal through games during the festive period as Sanchez went off the boil. The pint-sized midfielder made his point at Stade Louis II, though. Sitting behind Ozil and Arsenal’s front three, Cazorla played like a NFL quarterback as he kept the visitors ticking over with his variety of slick passing. The 30-year-old threaded a pass to Olivier Giroud which led to the opening goal, too. Despite his probing possession, the Arsenal midfielder needed help from Ozil and Sanchez. Whilst the £42.5m signing did enjoy one of his better performances in Europe, he couldn’t find that moment of quality that players boasting his price tag are expected to do, especially on occasions such as Tuesday night.
Arsenal centre-half Laurent Koscielny urged the north Londoners to pay attention to the small details in Monaco ahead of Tuesday’s clash, and the Gunners duly produced a professional performance. Arsene Wenger’s side moved up a gear against the Ligue 1 side. Particularly in the first half, the Gunners kept their foot down on the pedal as Giroud and Danny Welbeck were on the end of a number of decent chances. The France international eventually made the breakthrough in the 35th minute after reacting fastest to the loose ball after Danijel Subasic saved his initial effort. When Arsenal appeared to be running out of ideas after Monaco rallied at the start of the second half, Wenger introduced Aaron Ramsey in place of Francis Coquelin. It proved an inspired decision as the Welshman drilled a low finish past the Monaco goalkeeper with 12 minutes remaining. However, Arsenal really needed to make the breakthrough in the 15-20 minutes after the interval as the Premier League side were left with just too much to do in the final 10 minutes. Monaco limped over the last-16 line, and once again, Arsenal were left to digest another early Champions League exit.
Questions will inevitably be asked of manager Wenger after a fifth successive exit at last-16 stage of the Champions League. Most Arsenal supporters would begrudgingly accept aggregate defeats by Porto, AC Milan, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (twice), especially as the north London side lost to the eventual champions in 2011 (Barcelona) and 2013 (Bayern Munich). This year represented a real chance to end that miserable run, however a disastrous first-leg performance scuppered their chances. If Arsenal want to compete in Europe and see out a Premier League title challenge, Wenger needs two new signings: a centre-half and a powerful midfielder. Per Mertesacker was an obvious weak link at The Emirates, and while January signing Gabriel Paulista could be the answer, you can’t help feel that the Argentine is another Wenger signing that may take a couple of years to blossom. Francis Coquelin impressed in wins against Manchester City and Manchester United, but the 23-year-old still has much to prove and can hardly be considered Champions League class, yet. Strengthening in those two positions would be a real statement of intent and would nudge Arsenal closer to landing Wenger’s Holy Grail after their 2006 disappointment. After all, they have the quality up front. And if the Gunners manager needs ideas on a midfielder, he need look no further than Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia.
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