LONDON — Veteran striker Dimitar Berbatov demonstrated his enduring quality by inspiring Monaco to a surprise 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Wednesday, priming the principality team for a place in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in 11 years.
Arsenal’s first-leg loss came against the lowest-ranked team remaining in the competition — and which was also depleted by injuries — ensuring a miserable night for Arsene Wenger against his former side.
Watch match highlights: Arsenal 1, AS Monaco 3 || Bayer Leverkusen 1, Atletico Madrid 0
"No one really thought this result would have been possible, but we achieved it," Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said through an interpreter.
Monaco hadn’t even managed to score in the first hour of the six group stage games, but stunned the Emirates Stadium by taking the lead in the 38th minute. It did owe much to good fortune, with Geoffrey Kondogbia’s deflected strike wrong-footing goalkeeper David Ospina.
But Monaco punished Arsenal’s sloppiness eight minutes into the second half, launching a counterattack which the 34-year-old Berbatov completed on his return to London — where he played for Tottenham and Fulham.
Although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s curling strike in stoppage time briefly gave Arsenal hope going into the second leg on March 17, he then gave the ball away inside his own half. Monaco went on another rapid break and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco restored the two-goal cushion.
"The second and third goals, we were suicidal," Wenger said. "It looks like we have lost our nerves and our rationality on the pitch."
In the night’s other match, Bayer Leverkusen beat 10-man Atletico Madrid 1-0 in Germany.
It was an impressive night for Monaco, which last reached the round of 16 in 2005 — a year after reaching the final. It was also deploying a makeshift back-four that Arsenal couldn’t exploit.
Monaco scored three goals in north London after only netting four times in the group stage, when it qualified as surprise winners.
Arsenal is consistent in qualifying for the Champions League, playing in Europe’s elite competition for the 17th successive season, but it has never won the European Cup and has been eliminated in the round of the 16 for the last four seasons.
The intent was positive early on, but the finishing was clearly lacking. Danny Welbeck hooked the ball over in the 2nd minute after turning Elderson Echiejile on the defender’s first game in three weeks. Mesut Ozil then set up the unmarked Alexis Sanchez, who sent his shot over the bar.
Monaco’s first goal in the first half in Europe this season turned the game in the visitors’ favour. Kondogbia was left in space to receive Joao Moutinho’s pass centrally and a hopeful shot deflected off Per Mertesacker into the net.
Arsenal was presented with an early chance to equalize in the second half. Sanchez cut the ball back to Olivier Giroud, whose subsequent shot missed the target. Giroud then headed over from Santi Cazorla’s free kick, thumping the turf in annoyance.
Berbatov had no such trouble finishing with a composed shot after Anthony Martial brought the ball forward.
"We wanted to win more than them and were fighting all over the pitch," said Berbatov, who hadn’t scored in a month.
Giroud had scored three in his last two games, but was wasteful in the extreme here. After Sanchez’s shot was parried, Giroud blazed the ball over and he was soon replaced by Theo Walcott on the hour.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inability to retain possession after scoring allowed Bernardo Silva to set Ferreira-Carrasco on the run that led to Monaco’s third goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
"It was a horrible night," Wenger said.
The 3-1 loss completes a difficult set of first legs for English teams. After Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain last week, Manchester City was beaten 2-1 by Barcelona on Tuesday.