Neil Humphreys: Gunners are specialists in failure in Europe
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
(Olivier Giroud 36, Aaron Ramsey 79)
- 3-3 on aggregate, Monaco win on away goals
The British love an honourable defeat.
It fits the old Dunkirk narrative of brave men preparing to fight on the beaches in the face of insurmountable odds.
They are armed with nothing but a stiff upper lip. They die with their boots on. They die as heroes. It's the oldest of British bulldog cliches.
It's Arsenal every season.
Disillusioned supporters must be thoroughly fed up with singing the same sad song in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Honourable defeats belong in grainy World War II movies. Professional sport concerns itself only with victory.
Arsenal's 2-0 win yesterday morning (Singapore time) against a limited Monaco side led by a balding Dimitar Berbatov - last seen sitting in a deckchair at Fulham, sipping a pink gin and waiting for retirement - irritated far more than it inspired.
Had Monaco won the second leg or at least held out for a draw, then the Arsenal faithful could take comfort in the fact that the first leg was not a fluke.
But the French imposters offered nothing, not a single shot on target.
Joao Moutinho barely flickered, Nabil Dirar rarely featured out wide and Berbatov practically giggled his way through the game, unable to believe that he was still getting paid a huge salary for an evening stroll.
Monaco were less than average.
Arsenal showed there was a clear gulf in quality between the two sides and their annual Champions League collapse may again be buried beneath the avalanche of adjectives calling them "brave" and "unlucky" and so forth.
In some quarters, they are being praised for restoring pride.
They lost, but retained their dignity.
They are the Buzz Lightyear of the Champions League.
They can't fly, but they fall with style.
Myopic optimists are already suggesting that victory in Monaco provides a springboard for next month's Premiership engagements with Liverpool and Chelsea. The top three beckons and all is right with Arsenal's limited world.
But didn't they say the same last year - and the year before that and perhaps every year since 2008?
For the fifth successive year, Arsenal went out in the last 16.
In 2012, they lost 4-0 in Milan and then won 3-0 in north London.
In 2013, they won 2-0 in Munich after losing 3-1 at home to Bayern.
They fell short. They are Arsenal. They always fall short.
The Gunners' haphazard journey mirrors their night in Monaco. One explosive advance is followed by a couple of moves sideways, with one pass too many, one elaborate play too many, one infuriating moment of indecision too many.
The game should've been over by half-time had there been more incisive passing, quicker breaks and better finishing.
But they fell short.
Olivier Giroud made amends for his horror show in the first leg at home with a fine opener, but was unable to find a second.
Santi Cazorla dominated the possession stats, but his deeper role blunts his attacking edge.
Danny Welbeck prospered along the flank, but his final touch often betrayed him.
Mesut Oezil profited from the space on the left and carved out a couple of openings, but still cannot control games as he once did for Real Madrid.
As a midfield anchor, Francis Coquelin has been a revelation, but was sacrificed for Aaron Ramsey as Wenger sought greater momentum in the final third.
There's always a "but" with Arsenal, a sense of making do and satisfying the minimum requirements rather than taking bolder risks - both strategically and financially - to push through a self-imposed glass ceiling.
Eternal Champions League qualification has created a culture of mediocrity, where fourth place is a "trophy" and balancing the books is worthy of a hearty handshake from fawning suits in the boardroom.
Last season's FA Cup win and another top-four finish this campaign make for a successful calendar year of sorts, but Arsenal could be so much more.
For an hour yesterday, when there was literally nothing left to lose, the Gunners showed flashes of real flamboyance, those little moments of magic that make them so popular among purists.
But the brilliance was brief and it was soon back to the bravery routine.
One narrow defeat can be honourable. Five last-16 exits in a row are boring and serve only to support Wenger's Nemesis.
In the Champions League, the Gunners specialise in failure.
Tit for tat
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim blasted Arsene Wenger's accusations that his side did not deserve to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals and said the Frenchman showed a lack of respect after the Ligue 1 club went through on away goals.
Despite a remarkable turnaround, the Gunners paid the price for a sloppy 3-1 first-leg defeat at home but restored their pride with a 2-0 win yesterday morning (Singapore time) that sent them out of the competition after the two clubs finished 3-3 on aggregate.
Arsenal manager Wenger, who enjoyed great success at Monaco between 1987 and 1994, said after the match that his team deserved to be in tomorrow's draw as the two men failed to shake hands after the match for the second straight time.
"No, we didn't shake hands, I left the pitch because my work was done. During the first leg, the opposing coach (Wenger) did not acknowledge me, so I replied in the same manner," said the 40-year-old Venezuelan-born Jardim (above).
"Arsenal were not respectful towards us during the first match but, today, we can celebrate. For me, we deserved to qualify.
"We were able to benefit from the first match and it's the first time I've been in the quarter-finals of the Champions League so I'm very happy.
"The match was very intense as we expected but no-one would have believed that at the start of the competition we would reach the quarter-finals.
"Even in France or Monaco, nobody believed it was possible. Despite all the talk before the match, we showed that we were able to qualify and my players deserve credit."
Wenger, who has failed to take Arsenal past the last 16 for five straight seasons, struggled, not for the first time, to accept his side had been second best.
When asked if Monaco deserved their quarter-final place, the Frenchman replied; "I don't believe so. If you look at the number of shots on target they had, you will be surprised. Every defeat hurts but we didn't lose."
Jardim, who is in his first season at Monaco since taking over from Claudio Ranieri, expects the other teams in the last eight will fancy their chances against his underdogs.
"For the draw, it will be like the draw for the last 16, all the teams will want to play Monaco," added Jardim.