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Old Flaws Harpoon Arsenal In UCL

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Arsenal supporters accustomed to seeing their team qualify for the Champions League year after year are beginning to adjust to a new routine: wretched elimination in the competition’s last 16.
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Wednesday’s crushing 3-1 home defeat by Monaco left Arsenal on the brink of a fifth successive last-16 exit, after previous humblings at the hands of Barcelona, AC Milan and, in the previous two seasons, Bayern Munich.
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Against Monaco, things were supposed to be different. The Ligue 1 club were appearing in the knockout phase for the first time in 10 years, had scored only four goals in the group stage and were missing key players.
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But Leonardo Jardim’s team allied intelligent defending with clinical counter-attacking at the Emirates Stadium to leave beaten manager Arsene Wenger lamenting a “suicidal” defensive display from his side.
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Taking on the club where he had made his name as a manager in the late 1980s, it should have been a great occasion for Wenger.
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Instead it echoed the outcome of his 1,000th match at the Arsenal helm last season, when, after a similar pre-game love-in, his team had been torn apart in a 6-0 defeat at Chelsea.
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Arsenal’s defensive naivety and gung-ho attacking have long been used as sticks with which to beat Wenger, but his side seemed to have turned over a new leaf in last month’s 2-0 victory at Manchester City.
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After years of one-sided losses to rivals, Wenger appeared, belatedly, to have grasped the importance of defensive shape and to have accepted that a team can cede control of possession and still prevail.
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But against Monaco, and despite the fact Arsenal fielded some £90 million ($139.6 million, 122.9 million euros) of attacking talent in Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil, all the old failings returned.
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Arsenal’s play was slow and stodgy and saw them fail to exploit Monaco’s inexperience in defence, where 18-year-old right-back Almamy Toure was making only his third professional appearance.
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‘Clueless, pathetic, shambolic’
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Analysing the game for Sky Sports, former Arsenal great Thierry Henry observed: “There was no real pace on the pass, no sense of urgency to win the game.”
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Meanwhile, Henry’s successor as Arsenal’s attacking spearhead, Olivier Giroud, endured a uniquely terrible evening, failing to find the target with any of his six attempts at goal.
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One effort, ballooned over the crossbar from six yards after Danijel Subasic had saved from Sanchez, prompted howls of disbelief. Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Barney Ronay likened Giroud to a “wandering wardrobe”.
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It was Arsenal’s kamikaze response to Geoffrey Kongdogbia’s deflected 38th-minute opener that was to prove their real undoing, however.
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Twice Monaco punished the home team for pushing too high up the pitch in the second half, which former England striker Gary Lineker described on Twitter as “beyond amateurish”.
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Underpinning the defeat was an overall lack of application that the Daily Telegraph summarised in the stark headline, “CLUELESS, PATHETIC, SHAMBOLIC”, adding that Wenger’s job was now “under threat”.
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To keep Arsenal’s Champions League campaign alive, the long-serving 65-year-old must become the first manager to oversee an aggregate victory in the competition’s knockout phase after a 3-1 home loss in the first leg.
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More widely, Arsenal’s fans fear that the club has become trapped in a cycle of just-tolerable mediocrity: always qualifying for the Champions League, but always failing when they get there.
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The one consolation is that Arsenal are not the only English team to have fluffed their lines in the Champions League, with Chelsea drawing 1-1 at Paris Saint-Germain and City losing 2-1 at home to Barcelona.