Champions League: Wenger: Arsenal were so unlucky

Ross McLean
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(3-3 on aggregate. Monaco won on away goals)

DEJECTED Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted his side paid for their tactical naivety in the first leg after falling agonisingly short of a historic and heroic comeback in their improbable Champions League assignment in Monaco last night.

Monaco sneaked through on away goals and reached the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 2004, despite a strike in each half from Olivier Giroud and substitute Aaron Ramsey.

It is a familiar scenario for Arsenal, who crashed out of the Champions League for the fifth successive season at the second-round stage having failed to overhaul a first-leg deficit.

On only six occasions in 19 years under Wenger’s stewardship have the Gunners reached the last eight, but the Frenchman refused to accept his side deserved to exit the competition on the evidence of their performance over the two legs.

“I believe we were unlucky over the two ties but at home we were impatient and opened ourselves up too early and we paid for that in the end with an away goal,” said Wenger. “I believe that if you look at the number of shots Monaco had on target in the two games you will be surprised. Tonight I believe there was a lot of energy in the team and the quality of the spirit was exceptional.

“It’s true we are very disappointed to go out but I think tonight we produced a performance and the quality we wanted with a high level of energy and gave absolutely everything. We knew the task we faced would be tight.”

Skipper Per Mertesacker disagreed with his manager and insisted Wenger’s former side, with whom he made his managerial name during a seven-year spell between 1987 and 1994, fully warranted their victory.

“The best team went through. They deserve it because they played much better in the first leg and we had to comeback from a massive deficit,” said Mertesacker. “We played well but it wasn’t good enough.”

The Gunners faced a daunting task from the outset given their rivals’ defensive rigidity. Monaco entered the game having conceded one goal at the Stade Louis II in their past 10 games across all competitions, and just eight at home all season.

Had Arsenal overturned their deficit and it would have been the first time in the Champions League era that such a margin was eclipsed having lost a home first leg. Furthermore, Monaco had not lost at home by a scoreline that would have forced extra-time since September 2011.

It took Arsenal until the 14th minute to craft their first presentable opportunity. Giroud, guilty of missing gilt-edged chances in the opening leg, flicked a header wide after rising to meet full-back Hector Bellerin’s cross.

But the Gunners found their rhythm and made their first inroad on 36 minutes when Giroud lashed a composed finish into the roof of the net after reacting quickest to a fortuitous rebound having been initially denied by Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic.

The visitors threatened to reduce their arrears further moments later. Welbeck’s ferocious drive trickled agonisingly past the post after taking a critical deflection off centre-half Aymen Abdennour, who was stricken on the ground. Germany World Cup winner Mesut Ozil saw his curling free-kick tipped over by Subasic eight minutes after the re-start, while the same player crashed a left-footed pile-driver narrowly wide shortly past the hour mark.

A second Arsenal goal with little over 10 minutes remaining set up a tense finale, Ramsey drilling low past Subasic following a woeful clearance from Layvin Kurzawa, seconds after Theo Walcott had side-footed against the woodwork.

But their 300th goal in European competition under Wenger proved their lot as Subasic clawed away a combined effort from Giroud and Alexis Sanchez, but despite desperate late pressure a miraculous comeback was not forthcoming.