Terrible night for Giroud to produce terrible performance
French striker endures personal nightmare on miserable night for Arsenal
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud misses a chance to score in the second half. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Oh, Olivier. Probably best to look away now. There is, it seems, something about this time of year that really doesn’t agree with Arsenal’s chief goal threat and first choice number 9 who here contrived to produce something close to a personal horror show.
A tie that always threatened to be tight, now sees Arsenal in something close to a choke hold ahead of the second leg in Monaco after a 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium. If Monaco deserved the victory, playing with compact athleticism and also some style, it could have all been very different.
By the time Giroud was substituted - with a full half an hour left - Arsenal’s lone centre forward had managed to miss a succession of horribly presentable chances, each more inviting than the last, so much so that his removal drew a few scattered cheers from the crowd. That the night’s most notable attacking presence should be another strolling, indolent, agreeably languorous centre forward who just happened to once play for Tottenham Hotspur only added to the sense of angst at the Emirates.
For Giroud, it was a terrible moment to produce a terrible performance. Even before kick off Arsenal’s hopes had always seemed likely to rest on two attacking players who, for various reasons, owe them in this competition.
This time last year, Giroud and Mesut Ozil both went missing against Munich although in Giroud’s case this was a bout of approved compassionate leave after pictures appeared in the papers of him fooling around in his underpants in an unscheduled hotel room with an unscheduled woman. Here then was a moment to settle a few scores for Arsenal’s lone centre forward, who started as the central spoke of a mixed and mobile forward line. Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck were closest in support, a three-man inside forward line signed within the last 18 months for a combined GBP90m, with Santi Cazorla and the terrier Francis Coquelin providing craft and ballast behind.
Monaco are of course famously miserly, having conceded just three goals in 14 games since the Champions League took its recess. But with Bernardo Silva, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Layvin Kurzawa all failing late fitness tests, and Ricardo Carvalho and Jeremy Toulalan already ruled out, Arsenal would surely hope to find some give in that gristly defensive rump.
It was a fast start too as first Welbeck provided a moment of Essence of Welbeck, rolling his man superbly, sprinting elegantly in on goal and then panicking and hoofing his shot over the bar. There were moments but no more for Arsenal’s attack. With Monaco settling down into their usual cussed team defence. Sanchez and Ozil combined, the former’s long pass from the left sending Arsenal’s languid creator scuttling through in on goal in a position Theo Walcott might have relished had he not been watching from the bench.
As Arsenal’s influence faded, crowded out by a supremely disciplined Monaco team, the most notable flicks and turns in attack were coming suddenly from Dimitar Berbatov, who looked the same old Berbatov here, unsurprisingly perhaps given he has resembled a hugely skilful slow motion 34-year -old for most of his career.
Berbatov’s every touch was booed in the first half, which takes some doing. It must feel a bit like booing your favourite dessert. For all Arsenal’s early vim there was a creeping momentum to the visitors’ attacks , although the opening goal when it came was a little lucky, Per Mertesacker deflecting Geoffrey Kondogbia’s shot past David Ospina but only a little lucky: Kondogbia was given a huge amount of space.
And so Arsenal found themselves in need of a leader to wrestle their way back into this tie, a goal down at home to the team that don’t concede. Sanchez looked willing if a little muted, starting from a slightly deeper position. It is, as ever, a question of balance. Often in Ozil’s long absence Sanchez and Santi Cazorla played a little higher up the pitch, a scurrying quick-footed menace where Ozil offers subtle passing angles.
As the second half kicked off it was Sanchez who brought some urgency, scuttling into space down the right and crossing low towards Giroud in space. The ball came at knee height, but Giroud’s finish was horribly clumsy. The Frenchman has returned from his year of strife in fine fettle, looking more mobile, lighter on his feet, more willing to use his physique as both an attacking and defensive weapon. Here though he was simply a wardrobe, and not even a particularly convincing wardrobe as Arsenal’s entire forward line returned to the meandering form of this time last year. With 54 minutes gone Giroud rose above the Monaco defence and headed over, punching the turf three times in frustration. Within two minutes it was 2-0 to Monaco.
Berbatov scored it, but Monaco’s goal also owed a debt to Arsenal’s right-sided midfield as Anthony Martial broke into huge open green spaces and fed the ball across to the night’s most effective languid, strolling No9. Berbatov has always been a lovely, severe finisher. Here he cut inside and pinged the ball elegantly into the far corner before collapsing to his knees with a roar of joy.
And so Arsenal’s forward continued to fret and faff around the Monaco area. Again Giroud missed a chance, this time an absolute sitter. Sanchez shot low and hard from the right, Danijel Subasic palmed the ball out and from six yards out Giroud clumped the ball high over the bar. It was a horrible miss on a horrible night for the Frenchman that was over moments later. Ozil, his fellow absentee this time last year, remained on the pitch but did little of any note all night beyond getting himself booked for dissent and then, at the last helping to make Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine late goal. Guardian Service