After the nostalgia, Arsenal fans return to reality

This was the tie both sides said they had wanted, with each viewing the other as the best bet for a Champions League future, writes Jon West.

After the nostalgia, Arsenal fans return to reality

Yet Arsenal now possess a slimmer chance of progressing than Manchester City, who must win in Barcelona.

Inevitably, a meeting of these two clubs leads us down the road signposted ‘Arsene Wenger nostalgia’ as he was the man who ushered both into the modern age. Curly of hair, bespectacled, and often with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, the young man from Alsace, having caught Monaco’s eye at unfashionable Nancy, turned the principality club into contenders at home and abroad.

And then, following a falling out and a sojourn in Japan, he arrived in London to transform Arsenal into a side that not only won titles but could actually go an entire season unbeaten.

Such a long time ago. Arsenal may be playing Champions League football for a 17th successive season — an achievement no other English team can match — but gone are the days when anyone truly believes they can lift the trophy. Those hopes evaporated the moment Thierry Henry left for Barcelona almost a decade ago.

It is easy to forget just how successful Wenger was on his arrival in England, where he was instantly, unkindly, dubbed ‘Arsene Who?’

Yet all the knowledge stowed away in Le Professeur’s massive brain may well have played a part in his decline from winner to nearly-man. Samir Nasri, speaking in a documentary about his former boss, described him as being too “timid” in the transfer market these days because he cannot bring himself to gamble on a player. It’s difficult to disagree with that and his undisputed blue chip buys, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, made zero impact in this game.

Wenger has stubbornly claimed he has what it takes to win the Premier League one more time and no doubt still harbours the same hankering to go all the way in this competition at long last.

Not that last night had the Emirates faithful dreaming the same dream. The first half was dire, ambling along at a pace even Dimitar Berbatov, shuffling around up front for the visitors like Dracula’s only slightly younger brother, found pedestrian. Geoffrey Kondogbia’s opener, though deflected off Per Mertesacker, was a personal disaster for goalkeeper David Ospina.

The second began with the hapless Giroud pounding the penalty box turf with his fist after heading a clear chance over. Moments later, Arsenal were caught on the counter attack, the languid Berbatov firing effortlessly past Ospina despite no fewer than three defenders trying to block.

Berbatov, booed because of his Tottenham past, was only in the Monaco side because Financial Fair Play, so beloved of Wenger, had forced a club that is owned by a Russian billionaire and has a stadium capacity of barely 18,000 to discard James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao.

A terrible miss by Giroud, side-footing a parry hopelessly over, had the home fans in foment and Wenger responded by replacing him with Theo Walcott to huge cheers. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late goal seemed to have quelled the unrest and given the Gunners hopes of turning the tie around in the south of France. But one final Monaco breakaway unravelled all that and the Wenger legacy was tarnished even more.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox