In the end there was no miracle in Monaco, no fairytale return for Arsène Wenger, and there will be no more Champions League football for Arsenal this season.
But how close they came to making history.
The Gunners delivered a performance to be proud of at Stade Louis II, and goals in either half from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey kept their European dream alive until the dying seconds.
But, ultimately, the damage was done in the first leg. This gutsy, gallant display could not quite repair the blow of that 3-1 defeat to Monaco at Emirates Stadium 20 days ago.
As their manager had promised, Arsenal gave everything. It wasn’t quite enough. Pride has been restored but Wenger’s quest for Europe’s top club prize will have to wait for another year.
As matchday unfolded, the hashtag #MiracleInMonaco began to trend on Twitter. Such was the size of the task facing Arsenal in the principality.
No team had ever turned around a two-goal deficit from the home leg of a Champions League tie and, although Arsenal went into this game unbeaten in France, they required at least three goals against a Monaco side that had shipped just seven in 22 matches.
For Wenger, there was added poignancy as he returned to the club where he made his reputation more than two decades ago.
The Frenchman made three changes to his Arsenal side, bringing in Santi Cazorla,Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin for Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Calum Chambers, all of whom dropped to the bench. Gabriel, back in the squad after injury, was also among the substitutes.
Travelling more in hope than expectation were 1,200 Arsenal supporters in the away end and many more Gunners dotted around the rest of Stade Louis II. “We’re gonna win 3-0!” was their pre-match refrain.
The Monaco fans responded with a flurry of red and white flags – their team stood on the cusp of its first Champions League quarter-final in 11 years.
Arsenal had 90 minutes to score those three goals so an early one wasn’t critical. As it turned out, they didn’t create anything of note until Giroud powered a header wide from Bellerin’s fine cross in the 14th minute.
With Alexis on the right, Welbeck on the left, Mesut Ozil behind Giroud and Cazorla prompting from deeper, Arsenal had no lack of creators. But for a while they weren’t given space to create by Monaco’s well-drilled, tough-tackling rearguard.
Indeed, the home side carved out the first opening when Alexis ran into trouble and was then beaten by Anthony Martial as he tried to retrieve the situation. Martial found Dimitar Berbatov and he laid the ball off for Joao Moutinho, who curled a shot over the bar.
The visitors needed to raise their tempo to turn Monaco’s defence – and they did. Welbeck got in behind and so did Giroud, who crossed for Cazorla to volley at a defender.
A predictable pattern emerged: Arsenal commanding possession, Monaco keeping their shape and closing down quickly. When Arsenal did feed balls into the box, the twin totems of Aymen Abdennour and Wallace cleared their lines.
Arsenal were getting closer. Alexis and Giroud almost fashioned a chance between them and Giroud battled to win a header inside the box only to see it drop wide. Then, with 10 minutes of the half remaining, the Frenchman was rewarded.
Welbeck played Giroud in and, although Danijel Subasic blocked his first effort, the Arsenal forward slammed his second attempt into the roof of the net after the rebound had fallen fortuitously for him.
Game on. Arsenal hurtled forward with renewed belief and Welbeck – whose pace was causing Monaco serious problems through the middle – thrashed in a shot which hit Abdennour and rolled agonisingly wide.
Giroud scuffed a shot wide within a minute of the restart as Arsenal went back on the attack. Then Ozil forced a fabulous fingertip save from Subasic with a free-kick from 20 yards.
Their tails up, the visitors kept their tempo up too. Monaco – so hard to break down at home and in Europe this season – were creaking under the pressure of keeping Arsenal out.
That pressure was finally relieved by a dangerous foray into Arsenal territory, which almost ended with Moutinho scurrying through.
The arrival of Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco – who delivered that stoppage-time hammerblow in the first leg – gave the visitors something else to think about, a reminder not to go gung-ho.
As the hour mark passed the Arsenal tide had been stemmed, but only briefly. Ramsey replaced Francis Coquelin and, moments later, Ozil fired a glorious chance just wide after Bellerin’s cross was half-cleared to the edge of the box.
The game became increasingly stretched. That helped Ferreira-Carrasco, who got away from Nacho Monreal to deliver a teasing cross that rolled across David Ospina’s six-yard box.
Theo Walcott entered the fray as Wenger played another attacking card, and he rattled the post from Monreal’s cross. Ramsey seized on the rebound, set himself and fired into the bottom corner.
Arsenal had 12 minutes to make history, and Giroud forced a brilliant save from Subasic as he tried to steer Ozil’s free-kick in at the far post.
The Gunners were desperate now – as were Monaco – as five minutes of stoppage time were signalled. But to the dismay of Wenger, his players and those travelling fans, Arsenal couldn’t find the goal they needed.