"We don't give up on anything," Aymen Abdennour told UEFA.com, summing up the indomitable spirit that saw AS Monaco FC through against Arsenal FC.
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Few but the most dyed-in-the-wool AS Monaco FC fans would have expected their team to progress from the UEFA Champions League group stage, never mind end as section winners and then reach the quarter-finals, particularly after James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao left the Stade Louis II over the summer.
The departure of that heavyweight duo meant the principality club shifted its emphasis from attack to defence, a pragmatic move that continues to reap dividends as Arsenal FC found to their cost.
"We didn't play well, but we were focused, we applied ourselves. We didn't give up on anything to make sure we went through," Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour told UEFA.com, summing up how he and his team-mates have surprised many to reach the last eight after their 2-0 defeat on Tuesday saw them progress on away goals. "We were solid at the back."
'Solid' is a word that has been heard a lot in relation to Monaco this season. Having conceded just a single goal in the group stage — giving them the competition's best defensive record — Monaco have now let in just four in eight UEFA Champions League matches. It is no fluke either, with Leonardo Jardim's men the stingiest team in Ligue 1, too.
"It's thanks to the training sessions in the week," said Abdennour, who still could not conceal his disappointment at having seen Arsenal break through twice at the Stade Louis II. "We're always focused, we're always aggressive. We don't give up on anything. We play at 120% every game, and it always pays off. We conceded two goals today – it's not good for us, but the main thing is that we went through."
Arsène Wenger's side were ultimately thwarted by some obstinate defending. There was always a leg – notably Abdennour's just before half-time when Danny Welbeck appeared destined to score – a body or a head in the way when the Gunners turned goalwards.
Danijel Subašić in the hosts' goal did need to make one significant save, pushing out a second-half Olivier Giroud header, but he was generally only required to remain alert as those in front of him kept the Premier League guests at arm's length.
That feat was all the more remarkable given the back four had just 18 UEFA Champions League appearances between them. It was perhaps a surprise to see Ricardo Carvalho, who has played 85 matches at the top level, start the game on the bench, but Monaco have proven able to do without the 36-year-old former UEFA Champions League winner — and also a number of others due to injury — and still retain their resilience.
"We play like that all the time," Subašić, who has seen 11 different players occupy the rearguard positions in the last four months, told UEFA.com. "We have young players in defence and some experienced players, like Carvalho, who didn't play," continued Abdennour, partnered by 20-year-old Wallace at the heart of the back line.
"That means we have some real heavyweights in defence. We're all young, apart from Carvalho. We're a squad, and we have achieved this together. I hope it will continue."