Arsenal flaws exposed again in Wenger’s sour Monaco reunion
LONDON (AP) — Inside Arsenal’s match-day program was a cardboard cut-out of Arsene Wenger; a memento for visiting Monaco fans of their former manager. But not many Arsenal fans will want that model perching on their desks after a timid 3-1 loss in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Booing at the final whistle was a demonstration of the impatience toward Wenger, whose only titles in the past decade are two FA Cups.
Even Monaco’s ruler, Prince Albert, felt Wenger’s pain. After celebrating with his entourage on the London pitch, the prince said: “I’m sort of sad for him.”
Wenger’s Arsenal does at least always qualify for the Champions League — this is the Gunners’ 17th consecutive season in Europe’s top competition — but they have only come close to winning the competition once, as runners-up in 2006.
Unless the Gunners score at least three goals in the second leg in Monaco next month, it will be five successive seasons of failure in the round of 16.
Wenger, with a contract until 2017, appears secure in his job for the time being. But how much longer can fans endure the defensive naivety of Wenger’s team being repeatedly exposed against the top teams.
Discussing Wenger with shareholders in October, Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick said: “If he has a plan we back it. If he doesn’t have a plan we keep quiet.”
Wenger’s plan against Monaco left Arsenal far too open to be exploited on the counterattack.
Manchester City losing 2-1 to the richly talented and experienced Barcelona on Tuesday was disappointing for English football but not entirely surprising. Arsenal’s capitulation against unfancied Monaco was much more humbling.
This was the team third in the world’s wealthiest league being outclassed by the fourth-placed team from the more modestly resourced French Ligue 1.
“We were a bit suicidal defensively,” Wenger said.
Arsenal’s spending in the transfer market was restricted for much of the past decade as the club paid off its new stadium, but with the financial prudence behind it, the club spent almost $100 million on new talent before this season. Gunners’ fans were therefore expecting an upturn in fortunes domestically and continentally, yet have received more of the same.
At the same time, Monaco has been going through a period of austerity under Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, with the majority owner offloading talent: Radamel Falcao on loan to Manchester United and James Rodriguez sold to Real Madrid.
Monaco did sign Dimitar Berbatov a year ago, and the former Tottenham and Manchester United striker defied his 34 years to upstage Arsenal’s younger forward line on Wednesday. The Bulgarian’s composed finish delivered Monaco’s second goal.
How Arsenal could have done with such a clinical striker. It was a wretched night for Olivier Giroud, who squandered three scoring opportunities before being taken off with 30 minutes to go.
“He missed easy chances and it looked like it was not one of his best days,” Wenger said.
As so often after losses, Wenger concluded Arsenal’s “weakness was more down to mentality.”
The first goal conceded could be excused, with Geoffrey Kondogbia’s deflected strike wrong-footing goalkeeper David Ospina.
But as Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said: “We knew they are always a lot stronger in the first half and they struggle after the break.”
He was right. Defensive sloppiness allowed Monaco to launch fast breaks in the second half that saw Berbatov and then Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco score either side of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s curling strike for Arsenal.
Wenger, who coached Monaco between 1987 and 1994, has until March 17 to rectify Arsenal’s shortcomings or face a very miserable homecoming on the French Riviera.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris