Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v AS Monaco - Match Preview

14/15: Arsenal 2-0 Borussia Dortmund - Alexis Sanchez

By Rob Kelly

THE QUOTE

“It’s 25 years of my life coming together. It’s a bit strange but on the other hand my target is to go through to the quarter-finals and just to focus on that. I want to do well and I want to just play the game.” - Arsene Wenger

THE SET UP

For a man who has always preferred to look forward than hark back, the past few days must have been somewhat trying for Arsene Wenger.

As soon as the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League was made back in December, the narrative was writ large. This was to be a long-awaited reunion between the Frenchman and the club where he had such success in his formative managerial years.

06:01

Wenger pre-Monaco

The noise only grew louder as the game appeared on the horizon, and reached its crescendo on Tuesday in his pre-match press conference. Wenger was constantly ushered down memory lane, repeatedly being asked to recall his time in the principality.

Naturally, he took it with good grace - after all, this is just the sideshow before the main event. But when asked to reflect on previous exits at the last-16 stage, and whether Arsenal had been given an “easier” draw this year, the glint of steely determination soon appeared.

“On paper Barcelona are a stronger team than Monaco - maybe [against Man City] you will be surprised how weak they are,” he said. “It’s always a question of circumstances as well.

“In terms of potential, of course Barcelona and Bayern are the favourites but we have to deal with what we get. We didn’t do that very well in the last four years so we have an opportunity to do better now.

“I am professional, I am competitive and as much as I respect Monaco I am focused on doing my job well. I give my best to win the game, respect for your opponents means you give your best. We feel as a team that we are on the way up and we can use the Champions League to confirm that.”

ARSENAL

The manager has compelling evidence to back up his belief that Arsenal are a team on the rise.

The climax to Saturday’s victory at Crystal Palace may have been uncomfortable, but the result maintained an encouraging run of form that has seen them win 15 of their past 19 matches.

"They are hard-fought games in the Champions League and we need to be ready mentally to go as far as we can"

Arsene Wenger

Arsenal four Champions League matches at Emirates Stadium this season have seen Wenger's side score 10 times - an average of 2.5 per game - and they have never conceded to a French side at home in this competition.

But having lost at the last-16 stage four years in succession - albeit it against Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munich (twice) - Wenger is well aware of the danger that lies in store.

His side may be favourites to progress this time, but the manager insists they will have to be at full capacity to defeat a Monaco team with the best defensive record in the competition.

“What I take from our recent performances is that we can be confident because we won our games and we had the right commitment and the right spirit in the side to be confident,” said Wenger.

“But of course you know they are hard-fought games in the Champions League and we need to be ready mentally to prepare ourselves to go as far as we can on the concentration level.”

THE OPPOSITION

Arsenal will expect to be firmly on the front foot against opponents who have averaged the least possession in the Champions League this season (48 per cent) and who only scored four times in the group stage.

Yet, with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Anthony Martial, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Joao Moutinho in the Monaco ranks, there is no shortage of attacking threat to contend with.

"I expect a tight game on Wednesday, because Monaco finished top of their group and are a team who have made results by not conceding goals"

Arsene Wenger

Allied to a defensive frugality that saw them concede just once in six group-stage matches, it highlights the task that awaits the Gunners on Wednesday night.

“They started in an offensive style and have very recently gone for more stability in defence,” Wenger said. “They won many games 1-0 and went through a dodgy period in September and October.

“Since November, they are very consistent with their results and it looked until their recent defeat at Guingamp like they were coming back strongly even to fight for the championship.

“I expect a tight game on Wednesday, because Monaco finished top of their group and are a team who have made results by not conceding goals. They are dangerous on the counter-attacks, especially with Carrasco, who is very quick.

“They have a good technical midfield with Moutinho, Toulalan, Silva - and they have Berbatov up front, who can still create a difference in the box.”

SUMMING UP

The prospect of a meeting between the two major clubs of his managerial life may have excited the media, but for Wenger it is peripheral to the main objective: going deep in a competition he would love to win above all others.

“It’s 25 years of my life coming together. It’s a bit strange but on the other hand my target is to go through to the quarter-final and just to focus on that,” he said.

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“For us it’s an opportunity and we have the first game at home. That means it will be important to find the balance between attacking and defending.

“We have played one [Champions League] final, two semi-finals, four quarter finals and that is what you want to do: go to the end and win it.

“If you look around you, you know only one thing - let’s do it step by step because if you look at the teams who are competing they are the reason it is difficult. So let’s just try to do the next game and go into that with belief and humility and give everything we can.”

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