Arsenal take battle in France but war was lost in London

Valiant effort falls short as Arsene Wenger’s side depart Champions League

 

Monaco 0 Arsenal 2 (3-3 on agg, Monaco advance on away goals)

The lesson for Arsenal is they cannot leave themselves needing these kind of feats of escapology and expect to get away with it. Arsène Wenger’s side did their best to file this night among the great occasions of his long reign but ultimately it was just beyond them. It has become a recurring theme and, once again, glorious failure still amounts to failure.

What a bewildering team they are when they can play with this amount of distinction yet lose to the same side 3-1 at home. No team has recovered from that position in the European Cup since Ajax managed it against Benfica in 1969, back in the day of Johan Cruyff and Eusébio, but Arsenal tempted us, briefly, into thinking they might just actually do it.

Olivier Giroud had given them a first-half lead and when the substitute Aaron Ramsey made it 3-3 on aggregate there was still 10 minutes of normal play to go and another five of stoppages. Giroud brought a brilliant save from Monaco’s goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, during those moments but, again, the same question has to be asked: why couldn’t Arsenal show this kind of collective effort, or even close, when the teams met three weeks earlier?

This time, Arsenal played with a real sense of purpose. Per Mertesacker, reflecting on their shortcomings in the first leg, had made the fairly wretched admission that “we weren’t really up for it mentally”. Nobody could make the same allegation here of any of their players.

Giroud had suffered immeasurably during that ordeal in north London three weeks ago but he has shown great competitive spirit to shake it out of his system. He looked absolutely determined to absolve himself of the blame and his goal, after 36 minutes, was only a part of it. Arsenal’s centre forward was facing a formidable centre back pairing of Wallace and Aymen Abdennour but his ability to drift into space and bring other players into the game was a prominent feature.

Daniel Welbeck’s power and speed frequently troubled Monaco’s defence and Mesut Özil’s performance should subdue some of the disparagement he receives about not influencing important matches. What a pity Özil chose to swap shirts with Geoffrey Kondogbia at half-time and open himself to criticism in another manner.

Arsenal, lest it be forgotten, were facing the team with the best defensive record in Ligue 1. Leonardo Jardim’s side had started the game well and for the first quarter of an hour the Arsenal fans inside this strangely retro stadium must have felt impatient to see their team attack. When they did start to show a more ambitious streak Wenger’s players passed the ball quickly and with great variety. Santi Cazorla’s probing runs from midfield were another feature and, slowly but surely, Arsenal started to worry their opponents.

Laurent Koscielny was wrongly given as offside when he hooked the ball against the crossbar midway through the first half and Wenger could also reflect on that moment, a couple of minutes after Giroud’s goal, when Abdennour headed out one cross and was lying on the ground when Welbeck whacked a shot at goal. The ball struck Monaco’s centre half without him knowing anything about it and squirted out, dribbling just wide of the post.

By that stage, Arsenal had all the momentum. Welbeck had set up Giroud with a measured pass that initially gave him a chance on his left boot. The first shot came back to him off the oncoming Subasic, but the ball came back to Giroud and he scored at the second attempt with a right-foot effort that was still rising as it hit the net.

Arsenal briefly lost their impetus at the start of the second half and Wenger made a calculated gamble with his decision to bring on Ramsey in place of Francis Coquelin just after the hour. It left his team without a single defence-minded player outside of their back four and vulnerable to the counterattack.

Monaco, however, were breaking forward only sporadically. Dimitar Berbatov was only on the edges of the match before his own substitution and in Wenger’s position it had to be worth the risk.

Özil promptly flashed a shot wide from a position when he really should have hit the target. The same player had already curled a free-kick towards the top corner but Subasic tipped it over and Monaco seemed relatively content otherwise to rely on their defensive structure. Abdennour, in particular, was a formidable opponent.

But then they started to get edgy. Subasic could be seen slicing a goal-kick out of play. Arsenal kept on pressing and it was a bad mistake from the left back, Layvin Kurzawa, that gave Ramsey his chance to fire in Arsenal’s second goal. Another substitute, Theo Walcott, had just hit a post and Kurzawa was panicked enough to play the ball straight to Ramsey. His shot was struck with power and precision and then he was off, sprinting back to the centre-circle to restart the game.

Arsenal gave everything in those closing moments but no team wants to be engulfed in the sense of glorious failure there was at the end.

(Guardian service)

Atletico Madrid 1 Bayer Leverkusen 0 (1-1 on agg aet; Atletico won 3-2 on penalties)

Atletico Madrid stayed on course for a second straight Champions League final appearance by beating Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday and then winning a nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out to reach the last eight.

Leverkusen won last month’s first leg in Germany 1-0 and a goal from Atletico midfielder Mario Suarez in the 27th minute of a finely-balanced and absorbing return match left the teams locked at 1-1 after extra time.

Both sides failed with two penalties before visiting striker Stefan Kiessling fired his side’s fifth spot kick over the crossbar to give the hosts a 3-2 shoot-out victory and send the fans thronging the Calderon into ecstasy.

It was Atletico’s first shootout triumph in four attempts in European competition and earned them a place in Friday’s quarter-final draw.

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