Arsenal vs. AS Monaco, Champions League draw: A lucky draw for the Gunners
Even though they finished second in their group, Arsenal weren’t hurt by it.
A second-place finish in Group D could have been a disaster for Arsenal, but instead, it’s turned into a minor blessing. They’ve drawn AS Monaco in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, and they couldn’t have hoped for any better. Monaco, while clearly a quality side, are certainly the least intimidating of the eight first-placed teams. Arsenal couldn’t have gotten any luckier, and they’ll be favorites to win this tie.
It’s been as typical a season as possible so far for Arsenal, who are still alive in both big competitions and not favored to win any of them. The Gunners have dealt with a horrible string of injuries, but that happens every year, so it can hardly be considered unlucky at this point. They weren’t terrible in the group stage, but clearly second-best to Borussia Dortmund, and they sit sixth in the Premier League, favorites to finish fourth. Everything is right with the world; Arsenal are still Arsenal.
Alexis Sanchez has proven to be a truly spectacular signing for Arsene Wenger, but his failure to improve his defense has been his undoing thus far. Arsenal only have six senior defenders in the squad and two of them — Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy — have missed significant time. They also don’t have a real defensive midfielder in the team, unless Mathieu Flamini counts.
Getting Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil healthy could turn Arsenal into an attacking force, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re paper-thin in defense and lacking bite in midfield. For Arsenal to be favored to advanced past the quarterfinals, Wenger’s going to have to make a big winter signing or two.
Key player: Alexis Sanchez
If there’s any reason for Arsenal fans to hope for more than fourth place and a CL quarterfinal exit, it’s that the Gunners have actually figured out how to pull out a couple of recent results without Sanchez dominating. But most of the time, Arsenal are only as good as Sanchez and are entirely dependent on him to both create and score their goals. He’s been their best player this season by a mile and seemingly worth every penny they spent on him.
The Monaco project was assumed to be dead in the water when the likes of James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao were ditched over the summer, but manager Leonardo Jardim has done an excellent job blending the remaining superstars with Monaco’s group of excellent youngsters. They won their group, they’re up to sixth in Ligue 1, and they might have a future as a European power after all.
Monaco got off to an awful start this season, failing to win in four of their first five Ligue 1 matches, but they’ve climbed their way back up the table and pulled off an impressive upset win over league leaders Marseille on Sunday. And they were brilliant defensively in Champions League group stage play, allowing just one goal in six games, away to Benfica.
At any given time, five or six of the players on the pitch for Monaco will be 22 years old or younger. That youth paired with the experience of players like Dimitar Berbatov, Joao Moutinho and Ricardo Carvalho makes them a lot of fun to watch, and a team capable of pulling a huge upset, even if Arsenal are thrilled to be drawn against them.
Key player: Joao Moutinho
Despite having all those kids, Monaco are still very much built around their biggest veteran star, Moutinho. He sits in the hole between a center forward and a couple of tougher, more defensive midfielders, facilitating the attack and helping the team keep possession when they’re playing a more conservative game. His quality on the ball and experience playing in different types of midfields helps him be Monaco’s key man whether they’re chasing a game or trying to hang onto a lead