Wenger despair as Gunners capitulate and face humiliating European demise
ARSENAL 1 AS MONACO 3
DESPAIRING Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last night accused his players of committing “suicidal defending” and losing their nerve after unheralded Monaco left them teetering on the brink of another Champions League last 16 elimination.
Former Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov and midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia put the visitors ahead and, after Gunners substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared to have grabbed a late lifeline, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco struck again for Monaco at the death.
Now only a three-goal, second-leg victory in the principality on 17 March will spare Arsenal an embarrasing exit to opposition they were tipped to comfortably beat and avoid a fifth consecutive failure to reach the quarter-finals.
“We missed the chances and we were a bit suicidal defensively,” said Wenger. “We were a bit unlucky as well because the first goal is deflected but the second and third we were suicidal.
“We had the luck to come back to 2-1, [but] we didn't have the right to give a goal away the way we did because that makes our task extremely difficult in the second leg.
“It looks like lost our nerve and our rationality on the pitch. The heart took over the head and at that level it doesn’t work. Players wanted to come back at 2-1 and forgot elementary cautiousness.”
Wenger admitted striker Olivier Giroud had “an off night” and “missed easy chances”, but vowed to go for broke in the casino heartland in three weeks’ time. He added: “We have a smaller chance -- and a much smaller chance -- but no matter how big the chance is we'll go for it.”
The worry for Wenger will be that Monaco employ the same perfectly executed game-plan that ended Arsenal’s nine-match winning run at home and, in 94 minutes, came just one short of equalling their own modest goal tally from the group stage.
Arsenal had scored inside the first half hour of their last nine games and looked keen to make another fast start when Danny Welbeck fired over from a tight angle within 90 seconds.
Monaco arrived with a proud defensive record of 15 clean sheets in their last 17 matches, however, and quickly nullified the hosts’ threat by denying them space between the lines.
Winger Anthony Martial posed a threat for the visitors on the break, yet it was still a surprise when they took the lead seven minutes before half-time. France international Kondogbia's hopeful 25-yard shot was sailing towards the centre of David Ospina’s goal until it veered off Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker’s chest and left the goalkeeper flat-footed.
It was to get worse for Arsenal after half-time, though. Giroud -- guilty of two misses in the first period -- squandered two more chances to equalise before Berbatov added a second on 53 minutes, finishing clinically across Ospina after Martial’s break and pass.
Giroud invited his early substitution by skying from in front of goal after a Sanchez drive was parried, before Welbeck’s follow-up to Walcott’s shot was goal-bound until it ricocheted over off his team-mate.
Increasingly desperate efforts seemed to have paid off when Oxlade-Chamberlain curled in from the edge of the area to reduce the arrears, but relief was shortlived as the midfielder's error allowed Bernardo Silva to free Ferreira-Carrasco, who drilled a killer low third.