Olivier Giroud vs. A Remarkable Defensive Record
He’s much more than a pretty face, is Olivier Giroud.
The Arsenal forward has scored 11 goals during an injury-hit season and has netted three times in the last 10 days, but much more impressively he’s led the line and been the focal point for the attacking trio behind him – Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck, the latter of whom will be more than a little frustrated that the Frenchman’s form has seen his own chances of playing in a central position damaged.
But Giroud will be up against a Monaco defence whose specialist subject is clean sheets tonight.
The Ligue 1 outfit have shipped just one goal in their last 11 matches, and conceded just once in qualifying from Champions League Group C. The potential absence of the highly-rated Layvin Kurzawa could be an issue, but Giroud will have his work cut out regardless.
Per Mertesacker vs. Dimitar Berbatov
The slowest combination seen in the Champions League since David Moyes fielded Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick in midfield last season? That might be a little harsh, but this battle should be crucial.
Per Mertesacker excels when he can drop off and allow attackers to play in front of him, with the German’s biggest issues coming when players look to run in behind, something that we know Dimitar Berbatov is often unable or unwilling to do.
The Bulgarian will have to be mobile and offer himself as an outlet this evening though, with his side likely to be on the back foot and needing to play the ball into him just to relieve the pressure.
How he responds to his team’s needs is going to be crucial.
Santi Cazorla vs. The Monaco Midfield
Jeremy Toulalan, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Joao Moutinho isn’t a midfield which is set up to be passive, with the Monaco trio likely to want to get the ball down and seek to dictate the play on an evening that the visitors need to really just survive.
Right now, though, there is only one man who dictates football matches which are taking place at the Emirates Stadium.
Santi Cazorla has been in simply sublime form for Arsenal in recent weeks and months, imposing his quality on games from a deeper role and feeding the likes of Sanchez, Ozil, Welbeck and Giroud with precise passes.
Monaco’s middle trio will want to control things, but stopping Cazorla should be objective number one.
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Mesut Ozil vs. Mesut Ozil
A player who seems to be attracted to criticism more than praise, Mesut Ozil has quietly been in fantastic form for Arsenal recently, but as has been the case throughout his Gunners career the key is now to kick on and display consistency.
These are the sort of evenings that Arsene Wenger bought the German World Cup winner for, with the former Real Madrid man charged with lifting the spirits and the performance of his team on an evening which seems to promise so much.
Crucially, he now looks as though he finally believes he’s up to the job, and this evening could be all about him if he’s in the mood.
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Arsenal vs. Expectation
As we are routinely told by Wenger, the Gunners board and the club’s fans, Arsenal are very, very good at getting to this stage of the Champions League – it’s just that what happens after that which tends to get a little messy.
Usually paired with one of the continent’s elite, Arsenal’s frustrating shortfalls do have a tendency to be exposed in late February, but this is a tie that they have every chance of winning.
Start well, impose their quality on the game and really establish who the better side is here and there is no doubt that a handsome lead can be taken to the Principality. But the fact that many will expect that to happen could spell danger.
Monaco are no Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but might have to be approached as such.
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