Former Tottenham striker Berbatov silenced the boo-boys with Monaco’s second goal, on the break as the home side pressed a high line, in Wednesday’s shock 3-1 win for the principality.
Even after substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had grabbed a lifeline with a stoppage-time goal, Arsenal failed to retain their shape as they chased an equaliser with Yannick Carrasco slotting home a third on the break.
Berbatov, the 34-year-old Bulgarian who left Fulham to join Monaco in January 2014, felt that was always going to prove the undoing of Arsene Wenger’s attack-minded team.
Asked if he was surprised to find so many holes in the home side’s defence, Berbatov said: “To be honest, no, because Arsenal have very quick players, when they go forward they leave a lot of space at the back.
“We knew that, we prepared well and we took advantage of it. We knew what their weaknesses were and we exploited them and I think everyone can agree that we deserved to win.”
There was a sense of quiet shock as the Monaco players trooped onto the team bus after Wednesday’s textbook smash-and-grab.
The club had not played a Champions League knockout tie for 10 years and the young side that faced Arsenal was missing five first-team players. Despite that, the visitors had a game-plan and executed it to perfection — even if coach Leonardo Jardim felt it was not Monaco’s best performance of the season.
“We had some more important wins in the Champions League this year, like against Zenit Saint-Petersburg (2-0, Matchday Six) and Bayer Leverkusen (1-0, Matchday Five). We only got here because of those games. This is just a step before the second leg and it’s good preparation for our important game against Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday,” said the Portuguese, who drew comparisons with Jose Mourinho for his celebratory run down the touchline after Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco’s third goal.
Pundits in France were more critical of Arsenal, with Gerard Houllier surprised at the space the Ligue 1 side were given. “Monaco had three centre-halves pretty close to each other, and supported by defenders out wide. But there were a terrible gap between Arsenal’s attacking players and the defensive guys: it was like a 5-on-2 situation for Monaco in the key areas. This game revealed a new face to this Monaco side.”
Rolland Courbis, ex-Marseille manager and currently in charge of Montpellier, was stunned at Arsenal’s lack of defensive organisation.
“Before the game I thought it would be hard, if not impossible, to see Monaco winning,” he told RMC Radio. “I didn’t give them a ghost of a chance. But at half-time, I could easily see Monaco adding to their tally. When I see Per Mertesacker on the pitch, I ask myself: ‘Is that the best solution in the Arsenal squad?’ Because I just don’t get it.”
Monaco’s next opponents, Ligue 1 favourites PSG, sent a friendly tweet of congratulations after the game, referencing a piece of advice from top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic on how to beat goalkeeper David Ospina, formerly of Nice, from free-kicks. “Congrats to Monaco. You didn’t even need Zlatan’s advice. See you Sunday.” The reply came back from Monaco: “Thank you, we will remember the advice for Sunday. We might need it then.”
There was one bonus for Monaco’s younger players just before they drove out of the Emirates car park. Someone spotted Thierry Henry and the players had time to jump off the bus to take selfies with Henry. Not all the players: Dimitar Berbatov did not have his picture taken.