Arsenal travel to Milan again in the Champions League, revisiting the city after the 0-2 victory over the Rossoneri in 2008.
That Arsenal side consisted of the then up-and-coming Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott had Manu Almunia in goal and Togolese striker Adebayor up-front. Milan could boast players such as Gattuso, Inzaghi, Nesta, Maldini, Pirlo and Kaka and were very much seen as the favourites to progress into the next round. This was the second leg of the tie with the first at the Emirates ending in a stalemate 0-0 draw.
In the first-half Arsenal would have wanted to score an away goal to really settle the nerves and they looked possessed to do so. The Milan ‘keeper Kalac denied Arsenal on multiple occasions and when he was beaten by a long range shot by Fabregas the bar saved him. The first half saw Milan have their chances also, but Arsenal defended valiantly. Pirlo was pulling all the strings for Milan and Pato and Kaka were latching onto any long pass he delivered. Inzaghi was the main goal scoring threat, but he was unable to really test Almunia. In the end the first half ended 0-0
The second half saw Arsenal come out again clearly with attack attack attack on the mind, and Senderos came close to giving Arsenal the lead, but his shot was directed straight into the ‘keepers’ hands. He clearly felt he should have done better, and maybe he should have, but in the end it didn’t matter. With Arsenal attacking it left room for Milan to attack and they took advantage of that, Surging runs from players like Maldini and Kaka propelled Milan forward but in the end the finishing was wasteful and never really troubled Arsenal’s Spanish goalkeeper. As the minutes ticked on the desperation from both teams was starting to show and the game became even more end to end – which was great for fans of football, nit so great for a Milan or Arsenal fan.
The deadlock was finally broken by the young Spaniard Cesc Fabregas with a beautiful long range effort that left Milan’s players and fans in shock. It was truly out of the blue. Fabregas was running with the ball with Gattuso beside him and then from way outside of the box he unleashed a shot that whizzed past the Milan defenders, bounced once in front of the diving ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
Arsenal finished the game off in added time when Walcott steamed forward, stumbled past Kaladaze’s tackle squared the ball across goal to Adebayor who knocked it home. The Arsenal fans celebrated as the Milan fans started to gather there stuff and leave, they knew that there was no way back at all for their club now.
It was a great away victory for Arsenal Football Club and was the first time that Milan were beaten in the San Siro by an English opponent. Can Arsenal recreate history tonight? Wenger and the fans sure hope they can!
Arsenal are fortunate to have a good goalkeeper between the sticks, but it is a shame that the defence in front of him isn’t as secure as you would want for a Champions League match Arsenal’s defence will have to be as stern tonight as it was in 2008. Arsène Wenger may deploy Alex Song, who has been amazing for Arsenal this season in midfield, in defence due to all the injuries they have had. Arsenal will have to content with Pato, Robinho and Ibrahimovic as well as recent signing Maxi Lopez. Arsenal will also have to worry about ex Tottenham and Portsmouth player Kevin-Prince Boateng who has been something of a revelation for Milan this season. Flamini is in contention to face his former club who he left on a free to join Milan and will be looking to control Arsenal in midfield to stop them from getting forward.
I hope that Oxlade-Chamberlain starts the game ahead of the more experience Arshavin as he can bring some surprise to the game as Milan will not exactly know what to expect from the young Englishman. Arshavin though does seem to enjoy himself when he plays for Arsenal in the Champions League though, especially when up against the big teams – Barcelona case and point.
Arsenal will be looking to Walcott to step up again much in the same way he did in the game against Blackburn, but the whole team is going to need to up their game. Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri came out and said “Arsenal have a great team. There is not only Van Persie and we must be wary of all of them” but there is no doubt that Milan will be looking to freeze him out of the game, much in the same way that Wenger will be looking to freeze out Ibrahimovic.
Wenger has come out already and stated what he feels will be a problem and it isn’t a Milan player but the Milan pitch. “I’m a bit worried about the quality of the pitch, it doesn’t look exceptional but hopefully it will be better” adding “They told me tomorrow it will be much better, it has been relaid on the flanks very recently.
“When you relay a pitch like that it takes time to settle and become flat and at the moment it isn’t.”
Wenger also gave away some of his tactics, though it won’t surprise many that he is looking to play some attacking football, saying “We will try to play our game, Milan are a good side but we think we are also a good side. We will go to attack, they certainly will as well, it will be an exciting game.”
Arsenal will of course be looking to progress in the Champions League – not because they believe they can win it, but mainly for the bragging right – and will be looking to give a good showing in the FA Cup, but fans want that top 4 finish. For years they have complained of not having a trophy, but if you asked an Arsenal to choose between winning FA cup or qualifying for Champions League next year, I bet you they will be saying the qualification for the Champions League.