Arsenal vs AC Milan in the San Siro, scores level at 0-0 after the first leg and one of the hardest and most important games so far this season. No British team has won in the San Siro and right now our form is shaky. Lets be realistic, Milan are favourites to go through to the quarter finals but it will not be a full gone conclusion.
Cast your minds back to two seasons ago when Arsene Wenger’s side visited the Bernabeu. Until 2006, no English team had beaten Real Madrid on their own turf. Our league form was shaky then too and no one gave us a chance that night. In the end, it took one moment of brilliance but we came away with a 1-0 victory that, combined with a 0-0 scoreline at home, took us through. A repeat would do nicely.
In my opinion it may take something similar to the goal Thierry Henry scored back then to take Arsenal through. That night we created chances and wasted them in the same fashion as at the Emirates two weeks ago. Milan are disciplined at the back and we may need someone to stand up and make that difference.
Although the odds are against us, there is no reason why we cannot win this game. The tie is intrigingly poised and while that is the case, both sides still have a choice. This game could have a huge bearing on our season. Winning this game will give us a massive boost for the rest of the season. If we lose it will either provide the basis for a collapse. Hopefully though, if we have to go out, a loss will show us where our priorities lie and make sure the League is firmly on the mind.
Both sides come into it with key players out injured. It was believed Kaka would miss this tie through injury but, as in the first leg, he is fit and ready to take to the field. He may not be at his best and Flamini and Fabregas showed us that they can stifle his threat. Clarence Seedorf is out and this is a blow to Milan. The Dutchman might be into his 30s but he is intelligent and still has that quality.
We saw in the first leg that if we go at Milan with pace they will find it hard to cope. Playing against an ageing side suits Arsenal when they move the ball quickly, use their clever moment and give the opposition no time to settle. We closed them down early in the home leg and Milan failed to get their passing game going. We need the exact same tomorrow evening.
Being at home will push Milan to open up a bit more than at the Emirates. They were hapy to soak up the pressure and try and hit us on the counter attack. They showed all those watching why Italian teams can be so hard to break down, even when the attack is not firing. In the San Siro, Milan will pose a far superior attacking threat but may leave themselves open. I think Wenger will look to hit Milan on the counter and try and get at the ageing defence when they have fewer numbers providing the protection.
It is imperative that the Arsenal players close down the Milan players when they look to get the ball down. If we give them any time on the ball they have the ability to punish us at any moment. The players will take heart from the first leg in that Milan rarely troubled on the same level to which Arsenal did. We also must take the chances when they arrive and I believe they WILL arrive.
Arsene Wenger has some decisions to make regarding team selection but I do feel we will set up in a 4-4-1-1 in the same way we did in the home tie. Adebayor will lead the line with Hleb in behind. It will resemble the start of the second half on Saturday. The worry on Saturday was that we did not create any chances with Hleb in behind Adebayor. With Walcott up front we stretched Villa’s defence more often and when Bendtner came on we gave them extra problems. This will come into Wenger’s mind but with a counter attacking set up likely the extra man in midfield is likely.
At the back Almunia will probably keep his place after a very good performance on Saturday. He keot us in the game at 1-0 and inevitably gave us the chance to draw level. It is harsh on Lehmann who played well in his run in the side. One advantage Manu has over Jens is his quick thinking when we try and spring counter attacks.
At the back Toure has not made the squad which is a blow. Pace could be key in this game and Senderos looked dodgy against Villa. Hopefully his confidence has not been knocked and he looks back to his excellent outings against Milan and Blackburn to how he can play. We will be pushed back into our box and his positioning and aerial strength could be of great value. William Gallas knows how big this game is and he has a lot to prove after his antics at Birmingham.
The full backs will need to be disciplined but Wenger will urge them to attack if possible. Milan do not attack down the wings as much as other teams but Sagna and Clichy can provide extra cover in the centre. They will be crucial on the counter also as we look to spring from the back. Their pace will cause Milan’s fullbacks problems. We rarely took advantage of the 2 on 1 situations out wide with Milan not having wingers. We must do that tomorrow.
On the wings Wenger can go with Walcott and Diaby once again but I feel we may see Eboue back in the side. For me, allowing Eboue an easy route back into the team would be wrong. The guy has become complacent and that has allowed his performances to drop. He is a frustrating player but a man who can have a big impact off the bench.
Theo Walcott cannot be dropped after two impressive performances. That leaves Diaby, who I feel could do ok in this game. He likes to cut inside which can give us extra men in the centre. He can add strength but he must be more dynamic. If he selects Eboue it could see Theo on the left. If Wenger feels he can be adventurous we may see Hleb on the left with Eboue right. That would mean playing Theo alongside Ade. It would be a risk for Wenger but his pace could be lethal. I doubt that will happen though.
Flamini and Fabregas need to play exactly the same way as they did against Milan last time around. They must not produce the same crap from the match against Villa. Flamini did not close down and put pressure on the opponents, Fabregas slowed the game down and was not his usual self. He lost the ball far more often than normal and often withdrew impetus from our play. He will be urged to move the ball quickly and get the Milan team chasing the ball.
Is this the game Adebayor breaks his mini scoring drought? I bloody hope so! He has not scored in four games; his last goal coming against Blackburn. After his miss in the last leg he owes us a goal. I still do not know how he missed but now he knows he must get his first European goal for Arsenal. If he does it could be a huge step towards the next round. Ade will need to make sure the midfield links up with him otherwise he will become isolated. He can dominate in the air if we get our players wide and the full backs overlap.
Lastly we have the subject of Robin Van Persie. According to Wenger:
"He has not played for five months really but he can play a part in the game, he is not ready to start but medically it is not a risk. Maybe to start in the game and play above his normal pace, that would be a risk."
Therefore, as there seems to be no risk of a recurrence it should be ok to use him, if we need him. If the game is lost or won by the 70th minute I doubt we will see him come on. If we need a goal there is no doubt RVP will be on. Wenger knows he can produce a moment of brilliance at any moment, especially against a defence thay will tire late on. He also provides a quality corner and is our best free kick taker. These situations could be crucial. We have looked a bit short of goals lately and goals are something Van Persie delivers.
Subs: Lehmann, Hoyte, Eboue, Gilberto, Denilson, Bendtner, Van Persie
I am already excited about this game, wherever you are watching it, all Gooners will be together for this match. Let’s win this trophy for Eduardo and bring back the confidence to the whole of Arsenal.