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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

When a win feels like a defeat

The worst thing you can give is hope

It was a superb performance from Arsenal last night. All too rarely they perform well away from home in Europe but last night was one of those occasions. However, what happened in the home leg has cost us the chance to progress in the Champions League. This time it wasn't against Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but against a really quite poor team who shouldn't have lived with us. That criminal defending three weeks ago, as we knew it would be, is responsible for us being dumped out of Europe again. In previous years I've had a sense of pride, or of being robbed by some pretty terrible officiating (of which there was plenty last night) as we've gone to the Nou Camp or the Allianz Arena and taken on the best. Last night we showed just how much better we are than Monaco and, despite the fact that we should have had a penalty for the foul on Alexis, I feel disappointed and angry at the players. This is a mess all of our own making and that means I can have no sympathy this morning for the position we find ourselves in. We knew when the draw was made that Arsenal had things in their own hands and they've blown it.
I thought we started slowly last night but once we got going Monaco started to rock badly. Giroud got a deserved opener and within the next few minutes we'd seen the ball hit a defender on the line when he knew nothing about it, a penalty turned down, Giroud nearly turn one in after great work form Welbeck,, and then Danny himself hit a scorcher from a narrow angle that the goalkeeper dealt with. Half-time definitely came too soon as far as Arsenal were concerned.
Arsene Wenger apparently made his feelings known to the pretty awful referee before the second-half but it made little difference to some of the nonsense decisions he was giving, though he rightly added on five minutes at the end amid Monaco's time-wasting. Arsenal just kept going forward and trying to make something happen. At the back Koscielny and Mertesacker, but especially Koscielny, were outstanding in dealing with Monaco breakaways. Koscielny really has developed in to a very fine player and we need to hold on to him if Bayern Munich do come calling.
I wasn't all that happy with the substitutions. Taking Coquelin off meant that Santi Cazorla dropped even deeper at a time when we wanted him closer to the Monaco penalty area. I'd have taken off Alexis Sanchez as he had a pretty awful game all night. Far too often he just gave the ball away. You couldn't fault his effort and his willingness to just keep going, but there has to be an admission at times that someone just isn't having a good game. Taking off Welbeck was ridiculous. At a time when you know you're going to have to start playing a few high balls you don't take off a 6'2" centre-forward. At that point I'd have dispensed with Bellerin and gone three at the back, with Monreal slotting in next to Koscielny and Mertesacker. I remained unimpressed by Ozil, but opinion is certainly divided on him last night. For me he failed again to dominate the game in a way that a player of his quality, and with his transfer fee, should do. I don't doubt his effort last night, and those in the ground largely seemed to think he was one of our better players, but I just don't see it. As for Theo Walcott when he came on, aside from hitting the post in the lead-up to Ramsey's goal, I couldn't see him. He wasn't playing in the centre with Giroud, and he wasn't playing on the wing. It seemed to me that wherever the ball went, Theo didn't. It wasn't a night for hiding but somehow he managed it. We had one final chance to get the winner but the goalkeeper somehow clawed the ball off the line when Giroud/Alexis looked like they'd forced it home.
It hurts this morning because we have been beaten by a far inferior opponent. Maybe if the ref had done his job last night we'd have got through but, as I said above, it was our first-leg display that cost us. From Giroud's missed chances, to the utterly abysmal defending, that game is the reason we have been knocked out again. Now we have to see the players pick themselves up for Newcastle on Saturday. Hopefully the performance they put on last night will keep them confident in spite of the ultimate result.

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