Captain’s Log Star-Date 1,4,6 point 17. Spock thinks we should head to the Phondar system. I wasn’t actually listening to his reasons because the Phonarian ambassador was sitting opposite me. I’ve always had a thing for green girls. With Arsenal, Man U, Liverpool & Spurs, four teams for two places, it’s no tragedy that the distraction of the CL is all but gone.
The Miracle in Monte Carlo
That’s what we’re going to need to progress to the next round of the Champions League. We must be honest with ourselves regarding two things. The first is that it’s not going to happen. The second is that it’s preferable that it doesn’t anyway.
Not going to happen
I said last week that Monaco don’t concede many goals, (I also said they don’t score many, which was true until Wednesday). The chances of us going there and putting three past them, (at least) are minimal. They would need to have the complacent mentality that we displayed, coupled with a shockingly bad performance for us to have any chance. I know people say that they’re better away from home, but that doesn’t change the monumental amount of luck we’d need to win the game by 3 goals. Also remember that as bad as they would have to be, we would need to be at our absolute best.
I have to be honest and say that I don’t want us to progress. I said last week that we’re not going to win the Champions League and Wednesdays embarrassment proved my point. This season the Champions League is simply a distraction that we don’t need. Man United have been able to focus on the league all season. Liverpool and Spurs were both knocked out of Europe yesterday and they’ll have their sights firmly set on the top four. We need to be equally focused, because I believe that with the right signings (that Arsene will get for us) next year will be a different story, and we’ll have a good crack at Europe.
Finishing outside the top four won’t be the end of the world, as you can still make stellar signings as long as you pay a little extra, but the Europa League doesn’t work for me.
So what happened? As I mentioned before, complacency appears to have crept into the players’ minds. With the injuries Monaco had coming into the game and the idea that we had the best draw in the last 16, it felt as though the team expected Monaco to roll over. Even when we went one down, there was an expectation that we’d still win the game. I have no doubt that the players shared this feeling. The problem with that is that it’s not conducive to playing with maximum effort, and we didn’t. Our passing was slow, we lacked width and our finishing was awful. Take nothing away from Monaco, they defending very well, but we made life easy for them.
To say that Giroud had an off day is an understatement. He should have scored three, but a combination of bad technique and poor decision making meant that he wasted some excellent opportunities, especially just before he was subbed. Mertesacker was guilty of some kamikaze defending reminiscent of Vermaelen. He came charging out of the defence all too often, leaving acres of space behind him with no way to catch up when he lost the ball. If you look at his starting position for the 2nd and 3rd goals he’s beyond the halfway line. What is he doing there? The first goal took a big deflection off of him, and I feel he could have done a lot better. He had time to react to the shot and block with his body, but he inexplicably decided to try to avoid it.
The 2nd goal was absurd, diving in on a player and missing the ball in their half of the pitch. I’m still not sure what he was even doing there in the first place. The 3rd goal annoys me the most. He was standing in the opposition half when we lost the ball. He shouldn’t have been there. He should have sprinted back into position as soon as we lost it, but he dithered, and then almost jogged back. I understand that he may have been tired, but this is a Champions League last 16 game.I’d advise you to watch the 3rd goal back, but it will only serve to infuriate you.
None of our players had a stellar game, but for me Giroud and Mertesacker were the poster boys for awful. Mertesacker has actually been poor most of the season. Perhaps a spell on the bench would do him some good.
Mertesackers ‘defending’ and Girouds ‘finishing’ weren’t the only reason we lost on Wednesday. Tactically we got it wrong, and we were too late trying to fix it. It appeared to me that Wenger expected a compact, unambitious display from Monaco, and so he set the team up to tempt them out of their defensive shape. Gibbs came in for Monreal. Better going forward than defending, he was meant to leave some space in behind to tempt their right sided players forward. He was also meant to provide some width, and because we expected this to be a game we would dominate, get involved in our waves of attacks. You could ask where he was for their third goal, but the answer would upset you. Welbeck and Alexis played relatively narrow. I don’t think they were disobeying Wengers instructions. On the contrary, I think they were doing what he asked of them. Tempting Monaco down the wings to cross for Berbatov was a great idea in theory, because crosses to Berba wouldn’t be a huge risk.
Graham Souness was criticising Wenger after the game for not getting up and telling Welbeck to stay on the touchline. That’s because he wasn’t meant to. The theory was sound, but the reality was very different. Playing quite narrow allowed them to defend in a compact manner, and made it easier to close us down. That’s not to say that we didn’t create chances, but we didn’t finish them. We did manage to push them down the wings, but our ridiculous defending meant that their attacks were successful.
In game management
It became apparent quite quickly that they were able to defend against our narrow attacks. We were struggling to get into their area and were being shut down too easily. We needed width and we needed it early. Wenger either had to tell Welbeck and Alexis to go wide or he had to bring on Theo. He did neither until the 60th minute. By then we were 2 down and it was too late. I understand that he may have been reluctant to change things tactically because we were creating chances for Giroud but they were few and far between.
My barber Mem’s biggest complaint about Arsene is that he doesn’t respond to challenges that crop up in games. I can’t help but agree, and as long as this is the case we’ll struggle to win big matches.
Everton up next. They’ve not been great this season and they’ve only won 1 of their last 6 games in the league. They’ve actually only won 6 league games all season. They’ve been draw merchants, (including a draw with us early this season). That is a danger for us because with United 1 point behind and Southampton 2 points behind, a draw could see us finish the weekend in 5th. I know they’ve had a day less rest, but coming off the back of a good win makes a lot of difference.
What to expect
Leighton Baines was left on the bench for Everton’s Europa League win yesterday, which indicates that Martinez wants him especially fresh for tomorrow. This tells me that there will be a heavy emphasis on attacking down our right, looking to expose Bellerin and cause problems for our right sided centre half – Mertesacker. Whether Lukaku plays or not, runs in behind the defence towards these (probably low) right sided crosses will be runs in behind Mertesacker. Koscielny will have to be alive to this and Coquelin will have to come across to help Bellerin if he needs it.
For his work-rate, Welbeck will probably get the nod over Theo again. On the other side I’m hoping that Monreal comes back into the side, because I have zero confidence in Gibbs. I also wouldn’t be upset to see Mertesacker dropped for Gabriel. If ever there was a game for him to start, this is it.
As for us, having The Ox back is a big boost. He may have lost the ball for the 3rd goal midweek but he’s driven and dangerous. Welbeck (or the Ox) and Alexis will have to play wide in order to suppress Coleman and Baines, and Giroud will have to learn where the goal is if we’re going to get a result out of this game.
Give me a follow on Twitter (@CaptainDeeg) if you want to read 140 character moans during the game.