With seven victories from their last eight fixtures in all competitions, Arsenal are undoubtedly in the best possible form ahead of the upcoming Champions League clash with Monaco. It provides an opportunity for Arsene Wenger to bite the hand that once fed him, with the Frenchman facing his former club for the first time since leaving for a stint in Japan in 1995, before he joined the Gunners a year later. His team have found top gear at the best possible time, and while Arsenal continue to surge forward in the Premier League and FA Cup, the return of European football should rejuvenate the players even more. A two-legged tie against the French Principality side promises to be an intriguing spectacle, but while Arsenal will be considered strong favourites to progress, they would be unwise to under-estimate their Ligue 1 opponents, despite them not being in the best of form leading up to the first leg at the Emirates.
The comfortable 2-0 home victory against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup was made possible by a scintillating first half which not only blew away their Championship opponents, but also illustrated just how ruthless Arsenal have become since the turn of the year. There may be plenty of room for improvement where the defence is concerned, but a slight tactical tweak has enabled Wenger to get the very best from Santi Carzola and Tomas Rosicky who have pulled the strings in midfield. The alteration has proved hugely beneficial for Olivier Giroud who appears to be recapturing his lethal goal-scoring touch following his injury layoff at the start of the season. Both aspects will be key to Arsenal’s hopes of getting past Monaco, particularly in the first leg where the French side are likely to sit back and try to frustrate the Gunners in the hope of taking a positive result back to the Stade Louis II. Wenger may be able to include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his squad if he recovers in time from a groin problem, but the first leg at the Emirates will come too soon for Aaron Ramsey who will remain on the sidelines until next month with a hamstring injury.
While Dimitry Rybolovlev’s dream of transforming Monaco into a dominant European force promised much at the beginning, it has since disintegrated in front of their eyes. Progressing to the Champions League knockout stages as Group C winners should be considered an achievement for a club that were playing in Ligue 2 less than 2 years ago, but the days of big money signings appear to be over. Losing James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao during the summer was a big loss for Leonardo Jardim who has found the pressure of repeating last season’s title challenge difficult to handle, and despite a wonderful unbeaten run during December and January which produced 11 victories in 12 games, a difficult February has left them 11 points adrift of Ligue 1 leaders Lyon.
Arsenal will come up against a team with the joint-best defensive record in France, but should be encouraged by the lack of goals Monaco have registered at the other end. Losing James Rodriguez and Falcao has removed any sort of true quality in attack, and while Joao Moutinho and Dimitar Berbatov are their standout players, their inability to score may prove costly against Arsenal who have found goals easy to come by in 2015.