Wednesday night marks the return of a former Monaco favourite as Arsene Wenger comes up against his old side. The Frenchman helped lead the principality to success in Ligue 1 back in 1988 and oversaw a prosperous period that saw the likes of Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry come through the ranks, players that would later join him at his current club Arsenal.
The Gunners have been in excellent form recently, having won eight of their last nine games in all competitions and they have shown a great attacking edge all season. They’ve only failed to score in two games for the entire season, a magnificent achievement for a team that has a wealth of attacking options.
Monaco, on the other hand, have been revived having looked dreadful early in the season but have seen a period of sustained performances that has enabled them rise to fourth in Ligue 1. They’ve improved remarkably in defence, having conceded just three goals in their last 17 games, keeping 14 clean sheets and haven’t conceded more than once in a fixture since late November.
Arsenal will be without Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta and long-term absentee Mathieu Debuchy. Wenger is expected to rest Jack Wilshere, who has only just returned from his own injury lay-off.
Leonardo Jardim can’t call on Jeremy Toulalan, who has been the defensive keystone this season, as he is out through suspension whilst Tiemoue Bakayoko, Ricardo Carvalho and Andrea Raggi are set to miss out through injury. There will be late fitness tests for Belgian winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and highly-touted full-back Layvin Kurzawa, but both should be in contention to start tonight.
It will be that strong defence that Monaco will rely on to try and keep Arsenal at bay in the first leg. Expect them to play their usual 4-3-3 but they will keep it more reserved, using more combative midfielders like Geoffrey Kondogbia to stop the Gunners from breaking quickly or creating too much from midfield.
Arsenal will play their passing game but it has an extra edge to it this season. They have craft in midfield but real pace on the wings with players that like attacking defenders and shooting at goal. The prospect of facing either Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott or Mesut Ozil will really test just how good Monaco’s full-backs are, especially down Monaco’s left hand side with Kurzawa having struggled a little since returning from injury.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)- Many would pick out Alexis Sanchez as the man to watch out for and rightly so, but Giroud is in top form and will cause a lot of problems. He excels in the air but he is also very good with the ball played into his feet and he certainly presents a physical challenge to the Monaco back-line they might not have seen this season.
Bernardo Silva (Monaco)- Not really a name well-known outside of France and that could be a significant factor. There will be a lot of attention paid to the bigger names of Dimitar Berbatov and Joao Moutinho but Bernardo Silva has shown how crafty of a player he can be. He will be very important on the counter and everything positive for Monaco will probably come through the young Brazilian.
Monaco have done pretty well to get this far and they will be more than happy to just put up a good challenge against a strong Arsenal team but I cannot see them holding out forever. A brave performance in the first-half will be undone by a moment of brilliance from Arsenal’s creative outlets just after the break and in their desperation to steal an away goal, a swift counter puts Monaco on the brink of an early exit.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Monaco