Arsenal lost the first leg of the Champions League tie with an uninspired, lack lustred performance that had left Arsenal fans angry, confused, deflated and all round depressed.
Many Arsenal fans were already sceptical of their chances with the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain starting on the bench. Within 10 minutes it was clear that Arsenal were lacking the impetus to attack. They may have had possession but there was no movement from the Arsenal players, and they ended up just aimlessly passing it about until someone would lose possession and Milan were quick to counter. Milan played a much more direct style of football. I say direct and you may think long ball, but this is not the long ball of Wimbledon, but a long ball to a player that can control the ball and shoot or lay it off for someone else to have a crack at goal.
Milan had Ibrahimovic and Robinho upfront and with Robinho dropping into midfield and then charging forward, Arsenal’s lazy performance was really shown up. Kevin Prince Boateng also surged forward with no one really picking him up which came to the detriment of Arsenal in the end. Emanuelson came on for the injured Seedorf and if Arsenal fans thought that was a going to go in their favour they were wrong. Emanuelson had a bright game and along with Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng caused Arsenal’s defence countless trouble. Arsenals midfield did not get back fast enough when Milan would break on their counter attack and in all honesty the only time I saw Walcott coming back to help was when Arsenal were already 2-0 down which wasn’t much help.
Milan’s first goal was a real stunner scored by the inform Kevin-Prince Boateng. Do you all remember him? No, not surprising if you don’t because he never scored goals like that for Tottenham or Portsmouth. He chested down the ball with intelligence and intent, you can see he directed the ball so that he could unleash one hell of a shot, there was no was for Szczesny to save it as it shot passed him and then bounced back out of the net. The goal came out of nowhere, Milan had looked like they might score, but when they did it was like a bolt of lighting.
With Milan taking the lead early, there was more than enough time to get a goal and really get involved in the game but Arsenal’s response was to continue with their limp, damp passing game along with an uninterested play. Robin van Persie was getting no service what so ever and the only two players that made any real contribution to an Arsenal attack was Thomas Rosicky and the recently back from injury Kieran Gibbs. Robin van Perise was so isolated that in the end to get any real action on the ball and to try and get a move of some purpose underway he was coming deep to get the ball. The only problem with that was when he did get the ball and he wanted to move it on, the players around him looked like they were stuck in mud. It was frustrating for Arsenal fans to watch, but what it must have been like for him to be playing with them I don’t know. If that didn’t make the voice in his head saying maybe I should leave raise it’s voice I don’t know what will.
Milan’s second goal game from a move that saw Ibrahimovic not called offside. Although that is something Wenger and the fans can point out, Sagna’s lack of desire to get back and stop Ibrahimovic from getting a cross in is more of a problem. In the end when Robinho headed home from Ibrahimovic’s cross it was a very easy goal to score and a very, very sloppy one to concede but that summed up Arsenal’s performance up to that point. When that goal went in the match was pretty much settled. Yes Arsenal could have scored and they would be back in it for the second leg, but after watching the first half performance it was clear that Arsenal had lost any will they did have to fight. With the half drawing near to an end Arsenal were dealt yet another blow when Koscielny went off injured and was replaced by Djourou.
Arsenal needed some urgency in the second half and needed the 11 players on the pitch to really rally round and find some desire. Wenger would need to light the fires needed to have those 11 men come out on the field an believe that they could come back into the game, Wenger needed to deliver a speech that would in someway resemble whatever it was that Rafa had said to those players in Istanbul and come back to win the Champions League final from grasps of Milan. But it was clear to see that there was only one player that looked fired up for the second half and that was the substitute for Walcott, one mousier Thierry Henry, but even he couldn’t rally the troops to fight back.
Wenger had changed his tactic somewhat and Arsenal started playing 4-4-2 but had decided to keep Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench. With the second half underway Milan continued their dominance and when Robinho capitalised on a slip by Vermaelen he put the game and the tie well and truly past Arsenal’s reaches. As the game went on Arsenal slowly seemed to be building some confidence and looked like they might be able to sneak a gaol, but in the end nothing came of the chances they made.
I am a big fan of Oxlade-Chamberlain and I really believe that they should have started the game with him, and I m not the only one, but I don’t think I have seen such an outpouring for him to come on as I did during this game. Twitter was a blaze with Arsenal fans, not wanting, but demanding for Oxlade-Chamberlain to come on. So when he did I was pleased, but also upset that Gibbs was coming off for him. Now I know it probably was the right choice as he has only very recently come back from injury, but he was one of the only positive players on the field for Arsenal. Nonetheless Oxlade-Chamberlain was on and soon was showing why he should have started from the beginning. He was bright, making runs into space and when he was running with the ball and was being teamed up on he still managed to deliver a cross.
The final nail in the coffin for Arsenal’s chancing of progressing into the next round came when Ibrahimovic won a penalty for a foul by Djourou which he stepped up to convert. Szczesny was close, getting a finger to it, but was not close enough. Arsenal still had time to at least get a goal that would give them some hope in the second leg, but it never came. Robin van Persie had a few chances, but was not able to fully connect with anything and Henry tried but couldn’t make anything happen. When the referee blew his whistle to end the game he did so compounding Arsenal to their worst defeat in the Champions League and possibly one of the worst performances I have ever seen from them.
I can honestly say that this is not the way Henry wanted to leave the club.
In the end Wenger can not bring up the state of the pitch or that Ibrahimovic was offside and it was not that AC Milan outclassed them like Barcelona did last season, but Milan showed lethalness and desire to win the game. Throughout the game I was commenting on how poor Arsenal were playing. So much so that I started to run out of words to describe just how poorly they were playing. Poor was just not living up to the reality of it. In the end I stuck with inept, but I came to that after going through poor, uninspired, lazy, sloppy, careless, sluggish static and stagnant.
Arsenal are really going to have to improve on this display if they want any chance of winning the FA Cup or even finishing in the top 4. I doubted that they could do both before this game, and now I doubt they can do any. With Chelsea’s poor form, 4th spot is a possibility but with how well Newcastle are doing and Liverpool sniffing around too it is going to be a nervous time for Arsenal fans, especially with Tottenham coming up in the Premiership next, lose that, I don’t even want to think what that will do to the fans.