Abject Arsenal undone by Wenger's bungling
Arsenal humiliated by underdogs Monaco, who knew where to find the Gunners' weak spots
Arsenal 1 Monaco 3. It's hard to know where to start. Arsenal were so bad that in a long litany of lousy performances in recent seasons this disaster must rank at the very top.
Humbled at home in their Champions League last 16 clash by Monaco, the weakest team – so they said – left in the competition. But we had forgotten about Arsenal. We had forgotten just how anonymous Mesut Ozil could be; how wasteful Olivier Giroud could be; and how awful Per Mertesacker could be.
It was painful to watch, for Gooners, but probably quite entertaining for Tottenham fans, particularly as one of their old boys, Dimitar Berbatov hammered home the second of Monaco's goals.
For Arsenal's long-suffering faithful the sorry defeat was the final irrefutable proof that Arsene Wenger has bungled the club's transfer policy for seasons. How they needed a fast, intelligent, athletic central defender to blunt Monaco's enthusiastic if limited attack, and a steely defensive midfielder.
The fans have been crying out for such players for years but Uncle Arsene knows best, and Wenger ignored the calls. He did eventually sign a defender last month, Gabriel Paulista, who can speak no English and has appeared just once since his arrival.
So instead the Emirates crowd had to endure the sight of Arsenal's defence being hit time and again on the break by a Monaco side who had managed to score just four goals in their six Champions League group matches.
Arsenal in contrast had scored 15 in theirs, and went in to last night's first leg on the back of eight victories in their last nine fixtures. But the thing with Arsenal, what Wenger always conveniently forgets, is that in recent seasons the Gunners always crumble against top opposition, be it in Europe or the Premier league. A 2-0 defeat of Manchester City is their only success this season (or last) against one of the 'top three' sides in England and they now look poised to exit the Champions League at the last 16 stage for the fifth consecutive season. In short, Wenger hasn't got the wherewithal to take Arsenal to the next level, and for as long as he remains in charge the club will never be among the European elite.
Arsenal's abject display shouldn't detract from an impressive Monaco display. They came to the Emirates as underdogs but the French side were tireless, patient and precise in their plan, which was to defend tightly and hit their opponents on the counter-attack.
Their reward was a goal on 38 minutes after Danny Welbeck had given the ball away. Geoffrey Kondogbia tried his luck from 25 yards and a slight deflection off Mertesacker wrong-footed David Ospina to give the visitors the lead. Berbatov doubled the advantage eight minutes after the break when Mertesacker was caught out of position on a Monaco counter-attack. Anthony Martial rolled the ball to the big Bulgarian, who had the time to look up, pick his spot, and thump the ball past Ospina.
The home fans were stunned, even more so when Giroud missed an absolute sitter from five yards out – one of many such howlers from the Frenchman. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled a goal back for the Gunners on 90 minutes with a sweet strike from the edge of the box but the last word, fittingly, went to the French as Yannick Ferreira Carrasco finished off another Monaco counter-attack to leave them in firm control of the second leg on March 17.
"On the second and third goals, it was suicide," reflected Arsene Wenger. "It looks like we have lost our nerve and our rationality. The heart took over the head and at this level that doesn't work."
Wenger admitted that "the task is massive now" but he promised his boys "will have a go" in Monaco next month. Will Arsenal be able to turn things around? It's very unlikely. They lack the finesse and the fighting spirit. As Dimitar Berbatov told the TV cameras during last night's lap of honour: "Arsenal is a good team but today probably we wanted the win more than them."