By Bunburyist — Senior Three Handed Analogist for 7amkickoff
In the first leg of this tie, the weight of expectation was on Arsenal, and tonight we will see how Monaco deal with the same burden. Because, let’s face it, Monaco are clear favorites to win this tie, and that puts them in an unfamiliar situation. Throughout the group stage, they were the plucky underdogs, but the expectation now is that they should and will progress to the quarterfinals. We must hope the pressure gets to them as, apparently, it did to us.
So, that’s it really. The handbrake is off. We’ve got nothing to lose. They do. I’m expecting an all-out assault, a 0-0-10 formation pitted against their 10-0-0.
Can we do it? On the one hand, and although this tie looks like a foregone conclusion, there’s nothing impossible or implausible about us winning the game 3-1 and forcing extra time, at which point anything can happen. Since when was a 3-1 result an impossibility? Monaco can score tonight (on the counterattack, which they will), and nothing would change. We’d still need three goals. And we’ll get them. I’m predicting a 4-2 win, followed by wins in the quarter and semi-finals, followed by a final against Real Madrid, a game that will see Ronaldo petulantly intercepting a goal-bound effort by Gareth Bale, followed by us winning the trophy, forever banishing the memory of Almunia at the near post in Paris.
On the other hand, if I were a betting man, I’d put money on a 2-0 or 2-1 win for Arsenal. You know, the kind of result we’re used to seeing at this stage of the competition. A rousing, gutsy response to a first-leg loss, just so that we can congratulate ourselves on losing the tie in a spirited fashion (see Bayern Munich last year…and, umm, the year before¹).
But on still another hand (this is a three-handed analogy), I’m not a betting man, and this is not last year or the year before. Unlike years past, we go into this R16 game with Ozil and Alexis, a decent goalkeeper, a Coquelin, a beefier Giroud, and crackin’ form. We really are in crackin’ form. And I don’t mean crackin’ like the stop motion monster in Clash of the Titans, the 1981 film that featured a tin owl and Vida Taylor’s naked bum. No, instead I mean crackin’ like Vida Taylor’s bum. We’ve won something like 40 of the last 15 games. It’s incredible. If we take that kind of form into the game, we can lose! Or not lose!
Whatever your persuasion, this will be an exciting game. We’ll no doubt give it the old college try, and Monaco will be relying on a (now-meaningless) sense of the underdog, and a few key players returning from injury. Can Ricardo Carvalho replicate his dickful years at Chelsea? Can Berbatov channel the hubristic stench of United and Tottenham? Can Kondogbia remind some Arsenal fans to bleat about how we should have signed him? Is Toulalan a bird? These and other questions will be answered tonight.
And then there’s the question of what a win would mean anyway. If we’re honest, the Champions League has felt like a luxury we can’t afford, squad-wise. Yes, it brings in some revenue, but only the most optimistic (some would say delusional) of us would suggest we’ve been capable of winning this competition in the last eight or nine years. Particularly this year, the focus seems to be on salvaging what is reasonably attainable after a disastrous start to the season, and that just about includes our ambitions for an FA Cup and a spot in the top four. A Champions League trophy sounds ridiculous, frankly. So what’s the point? Aren’t we better off bowing out now rather than dragging out the inevitable?
Maybe, and I’d love to read comments on this issue below, but for me part of the joy of watching the game against Monaco will be the feeling of having nothing to lose and everything to gain. If we win, I can imagine the magic of a cup run; if we lose, I can imagine a distraction avoided, and a subsequent focus on an FA Cup final, and strong finish in the league. That’s a good place to be. Enjoy the game, whatever the result.
¹And Inter the year before. I was at all three of those matches — 7am