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Arsenal must get back to basics after Champions League lesson from Monaco

Football News | Article posted on February 26th, 2015

Another season, the same old way to fail. Arsenal have a particular way of losing games and all the familiar tropes were there in abundance on Wednesday: the squandered chances, the needlessly complicated attacking moves, the lack of urgency, the defensive laxity. Arsène Wenger seemed wearily resigned after the game, which is hardly surprising – he has done the press conference over and over again. The difference is, this wasn’t Barcelona or Bayern Munich inflicting the defeat; it was Monaco.
Seemingly going out of his way to avoid using the term, Wenger effectively confirmed he felt his side had been complacent but that charge of underestimating Monaco applied to his tactical set-up as much as anything. When Arsenal beat Manchester City at the Etihad in mid-January, they were arrayed in a 4-3-3, Francis Coquelin flanked by Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey. Here, it was a 4-2-3-1, which, willing as Cazorla was, simply did not offer sufficient protection for the back four.
What was extraordinary was what willing victims Arsenal were. These were failings seen a thousand times before, familiar enough to obliterate the sense engendered after the victory at Manchester City that somehow a new, grittier Arsenal had been forged from the long history of past mistakes. There was a staggering naivety about Arsenal’s play, so they resembled a team that had never played in a two-legged tie before.
Monaco were solid, sitting a screen of three players in front of the back four, and clinical on the break – but no more than that. The finishes of Dimitar Berbatov and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco were superb but other than that Monaco offered nothing particularly beyond what would be expected of a competent side that had conceded only two goals in its previous 12 games.
This was a story of Arsenal failing to fulfil the basics. It was as though their domination of possession in the opening minutes – they had more than 90% of the ball for the first five minutes – lulled them into a sense that this would be a game of attack against defence, that somehow the basics no longer applied.
When Danny Welbeck lost possession on the halfway line on the left there was a general sluggishness about covering. As João Moutinho received the ball in space, Cazorla was forced across, which in turn left Geoffrey Kondogbia unmarked. He had time to take a touch and measure his shot. Wenger was right to say there was bad luck in the way it deflected off Per Mertesacker on its way in but it is also true that had Mertesacker not turned his back, had he not been the closest defender to Kondogbia 10 yards away, there wouldn’t have been a chance for misfortune

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