Arsenal last advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions in 2010 where they were beaten by Barcelona thanks to four goals from Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp. Since then they have been dumped out of the competition twice by Bayern Munich and Barcelona and once in a crazy tie against AC Milan.
The 2-0 win away to Manchester City laid out a blue print for a potential run deep into the competition this season. To win it you need to be compact, disciplined and efficient when you get the ball. Gary Neville alluded to this in commentary during the game, a performance fitting of a big away tie in Europe.
On Display v City – ‘A performance fitting of a big away tie in Europe’
It’s true in recent times a similar game plan has been used to approach big games with varying degrees of success. Last October in the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge we saw Wenger do exactly that.Being compact and disciplined were critical to that game, however on the day Chelsea were the better side and scored first which meant the Gunners had to abandon their initial plan and chase the game. The defence then had to push out as the team chased an equaliser, leaving space in behind for Diego Costa to grab a second and finish the game.
Another occasion was last season in the North London Derby at White Hart Lane. After scoring within a minute through Tomas Rosicky Wenger gave up a possession game to form a compact and solid defensive gameplan. This worked after seeing out a 1-0 win. Scoring first is vital to the success of this strategy; going behind makes it completely useless.
Wenger’s men showed last year that they are capable of being a successful cup team and now they must translate onto the European Stage. With players like Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey coming back to full fitness there now seems to be strength in depth amongst the squad that will be able to handle a long cup run.
Strengthening the back line was always going to be a critical and the addition of Gabriel from Villareal will be a much-needed boost. This will allow some rotation without having to bring players into unfamiliar positions. Although Nacho Monreal has generally done well filling at centre back it will be reassuring to see him concentrate on his best position.
Current striking options mean that we have the ability to hurt any team we come up against. The pace and power up front, that we so dearly lacked for large parts of last season, is back and ready to fire on all cylinders; this will make us very dangerous on the counter attack, as we saw against City.
Though it is easier said than done executing this type of game plan against a Real Madrid or Bayern Munich but we have seen that both of these teams have their weaknesses. Wouldn’t it be nice to pull this kind of result away at Chelsea, some revenge for that defeat in at Highbury in 2004.
We saw in the FA Cup against Brighton at the weekend that at times we can still be left exposed which will cause problems but luckily we can get away with that kind of strategy against lower league opposition, but that will be punished in Europe.
In previous seasons we have been hurt by costly red cards or slack organisation that let the tie get away from us. The 4-0 in the San Siro in 2012 was a nightmare first leg but the home tie showed that even if we had lost 2-0 we could have easily gone through at home.
But finally a favourable draw has come our way with AS Monaco our round of 16 opponents, while they have enough quality to hurt us, the squad will feel very confident they will have enough to progress over two legs. We have avoided the real heavyweights, for now, but we will need to know that at some stage they will come face to face with us if we want to conquer Europe for the first time.
This performance away to the champions will instill confidence within the squad and they will start to believe they will be able to do it at the home of Europe’s biggest clubs. It will be pleasing for Arsene Wenger to know that his side is capable of reverting to a different game plan in order to win games. A mentality that bodes well for a successful end to the season.
Certainly most us must be feeling more confident about a run to Berlin now but the bookies still have us as about 7th/8th favourites at about 20/22-1. If you are tempted this site here has all the best promotions
Bring it on! Until next time thanks for reading