LONDON: Pathetic. Shambolic. Naive. Arsenal departed to a flurry of boos after a deserved defeat by a Monaco side who were superior in every department. So it's Monte Carlo and probably bust for Arsenal. It really now could be the beginning of the end for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal after his old team inflicted this grievous blow.
Presented with an attractive draw, Arsenal should have been confident about reaching the quarter-finals. Instead they were outclassed by the visitors. Monaco did not park the yacht; they played with intelligence and elan. Prince Albert was watching and admiring but Arsenal looked like they had spent an evening at the Queen Vic. They were so sluggish for so long, especially their captain Per Mertesacker, who even lost out in a sprint to Dimitar Berbatov.
Mesut Ozil was disappointing, failing to impose his undoubted talent in such a crux moment. Olivier Giroud has been enjoying plenty of praise recently but is still too one-footed, not quick enough and missed a couple of good chances. Only when Theo Walcott came on, and particularly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, did Arsenal carry a threat.
There were 2,000 Monaco fans here, which cannot have left too many back in the Principality, who were chanting "We are at home" and "Ole" as Joao Moutinho was playing some superb passes, as Geoffrey Kondogbia was dominating midfield and also scoring, as Anthony Martial was magnificent down the left. They cheered, and did a brief Poznan, as Berbatov scored.
Even when Oxlade-Chamberlain struck, Arsenal still dozed off, allowing Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco to sprint through for a third away goal.
This was not in the script. Wenger had respectfully argued that Arsenal were not favourites against opponents where he spent seven years and is still revered for leading them to the league title in 1988.
Yet Monaco are currently fourth in Ligue 1, managed only four goals in the group stage, and were missing the suspended Jeremy Toulalan and had lost Ricardo Carvalho to injury. For Arsenal to have found themselves trailing to Kondogbia's deflected strike at the break, and then to Berbatov's calm finish eight minutes after the interval, was deeply embarrassing for all Wenger's talking up of the visitors. This had appeared a straightforward, enticing draw not an ambush.
Monaco were far less forbidding opponents than Arsenal's more recent knockout conquerors in Bayern Munich (twice), AC Milan and Barcelona as they bowed out of the round of 16 in the past four years. Yet Monaco had conceded only one goal in six group-stage games (to Benfica's Talisca) and their defence was imperious in the first half here.
The sight of Alexis Sanchez and Ozil orchestrating the kick-off signalled the class coming Monaco's way yet they stood firm. Arsenal mixed up their attacks, taking the occasional long-ball route such as when Francis Coquelin launched a pass to Danny Welbeck, who turned Elderson but shot over. Aymen Abdennour, who was taking responsibility for Giroud, then intervened to make two importance clearances. Wallace cleared as Kieran Gibbs threatened. It set the tone for Monaco's first-half resistance.
They came hunting an away goal or two too. Monaco had Berbatov languidly leading the line, the 34-year-old former Spurs player being regularly booed. He responded in his usual unhurried, technical way, flicking one elegant pass to Martial. The French teenager was attacking down the left, keeping one eye on Hector Bellerin's excursions.
Monaco's captain, Nabil Dirar, was moving down the right while Moutinho was playing just off Berbatov, finding space to lace a shot wide after 20 minutes. Yet Monaco's most impressive performer was Kondogbia, the strong central midfielder, who was breaking up Arsenal moves, twice on Santi Cazorla and then on Welbeck.
Monaco were playing with shape, with discipline, with threatening forays forward. Abdennour even broke off from his defensive duties, lifting in a ball that proved too easy for David Ospina. Arsenal were struggling to locate Giroud and when they did he was either tightly marked or profligate. It was a rare moment in the first half when Sanchez curled over a corner, and Giroud headed wide.
Arsenal had a promising period. Laurent Koscielny tested Danijel Subasic. Then Sanchez exchanged passes with Ozil, but swept his shot over the bar. Bellerin managed to get down the right, but overhit his cross. Giroud called to him, urging him to continue getting forward. Monaco absorbed the pressure and responded in style. Martial wove between Bellerin and Cazorla before slipping the ball to Moutinho who fired over.
Seven minutes from the break, Monaco broke through. It all came from a long clearance from Subasic, who drilled the ball upfield towards Berbatov. The Bulgarian was leaping with Koscielny, contesting the ball, which fell towards the touchline. Welbeck hesitated as Almamy Toure stormed in, the 18-year-old right-back from Mali winning the ball and transferring inside to Moutinho. The Portuguese international, a one-time target of Everton during his Sporting Lisbon days, simply shifted the ball across to Kondogbia. Arsenal's defence was all over the place, Mertesacker, in particular, in no-man's-land.
Kondogbia, the France midfielder, took a touch and then let fly with his left foot, the invitation to shoot presented by the absence of opponents in his immediate vicinity. Kondogbia's shot struck Mertesacker en route, the deflection completely wrong-footing Ospina, who fell backwards in frustration as the ball raced into the net. Kondogbia sprinted towards the Arsenal fans, leaping in the air in celebration before pointing to the heavens as his team-mates embraced him.
Arsenal emerged early for the second half but Giroud's struggles continued apace. From a Cazorla free-kick, Giroud headed over. Then Monaco ripped through Arsenal's scrambled defence again with a brilliant counter-attack, the ball shifted from Fabinho to Martial, who squared the ball to the unmarked Berbatov. Mertesacker was nowhere. Bellerin sprinted across, so did Koscielny but it was too late. Berbatov thumped an emphatic finish past Ospina. Arsenal fans were seething, especially when Giroud missed from close range after a Sanchez shot was stopped.
They cheered when Walcott replaced Giroud, who departed to some applause and a few reverse Churchills.
Staring indignity in the face, Wenger then sent on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Coquelin, then Tomas Rosicky for Cazorla. Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal brief hope, scoring a magnificent, curling goal from 25 yards. But the shambolic nature of a defence was encapsulated as Ferreira-Carrasco ran through, placing a right-footed shot past the exposed Ospina. The inquest will be painful for Wenger as he heads to his old home.