Written by TotalArsenal
4-0 down from the first leg in the San Siro, and only two midfielders to choose from by Wenger: the task of reaching the next round in this year’s CL competition could not have been harder. On the other hand, because the first leg result left us in an almost impossible position to go through, the players could go out on the pitch and play free and attacking football, as per the DNA of the Wengerball-era.
And boy, did they enjoy themselves in the first half! With Song as the only DM in midfield this time, we played Rosicky and The Ox in the more advanced midfield positions, and we pushed hard from the wings as well – especially our right wing, where Sagna and Walcott formed a constant threat, with which Milan’s LB, Mesbah, and his nearest CB, Thiago Silva, really struggled in the first half. Arsenal’s defence played a high line which was necessary so Song would not get swamped in midfield, as he had the enormous responsibility of controlling the midfield last night. We basically played the Barcelona-way in the first half, only better (lol)! The combination of The Ox and TR7 gave us a fresh and dynamic style of play, and the Italians had simply no answer to their energy and attacking ingenuity.
We played a high tempo from the start and never allowed Milan to settle. Milan did manage to get out of our grasp now and again, but it mostly led to quick passes to Ibrahimovic, who managed to be in an offsite position almost every time.
Incredibly, we scored three goals in the first half, reducing the two-leg deficit to just one goal.
The first one was from a corner that was whipped in with real venom and a strong curve by the excellent Ox. Koz, super Koz, was too quick for Van Bommel, who started the game sluggishly for Milan, and he manoeuvred himself in a free position to convert a relatively easy chance. The Milan goalkeeper, Abbiati, had no chance: 1-0.
The second one was a result of bad defending by Thiago Silva, who intercepted a misguided pass into the box by Walcott, only to clear it straight to Rosicky. The latter had time to control the ball with his first touch, after which he placed a shot into the corner of Abbiati’s left corner, whilst cleverly hiding his intensions by using the defender’s body in front of him that was shielding the view of the keeper: 2-0, 26 minutes played, and game truly on!
The third one came from the penalty spot. A few minutes before half time, the Ox took on Mesbah and whilst moving himself decisively into the penalty-area, he got squeezed between the latter and fellow defender Nocerinio, and he was clearly fouled: penalty! RvP steps up and scores with a text-book, absolutely unstoppable, penalty: 3-0.
Just before half time, Milan created an excellent chance to make it 3-1, which would have meant Arsenal needing at least 3 more goals to go through. El Sharaawy fluffs his effort, however, probably frightened by the menacing tentacles of the forward pouncing Polish octopus. Szczesny’s presence and ability to intimidate in the box is simply a joy to watch.
The second half was of a totally different order compared to the first one. The pressure and nerves were back on, as we now had a very decent chance to go through to the next round.
We started well again, albeit with a bit less intensity, and cohesion in the midfield. Milan started to battle more effectively in midfield, and Ibrahimovic had decided to start putting in a shift for his team at last. But what really made the difference was the apparent hamstring injury to the Ox. It took a while before Wenger finally decided to take him off, and the possible reason for this is that the most like-for-like replacement, Ozyakop, was too nervous to come on (some on AA have suggested that he threw up whilst being on the bench?!). With the Ox no longer able to support Song and Rosicky, and both quickly tiring as well, leading to more and more misplaced passes and often unnecessary fouls, we slowly but surely lost the battle in midfield, which allowed the Rossoneri to play out the game without conceding any further goals.
Just before the hour mark, however, Arsenal was still able to create a golden opportunity to score the all important fourth goal that would have levelled the tie, but it was not to be. Gervinho, who had been worryingly ineffective throughout most of the game, saw his deflected shot from inside the box saved by the keeper, only for the latter to push the ball right in front of our Boy Wonder. Robin’s attempted delicate chip over the keeper is well-anticipated by Abbiati, and he is able to save at a very important stage of the game.
With the Ox out and Rosicky knackered, and nobody on the bench to help us regain the midfield, we left an enormous gap between defence and attack for the last 30 minutes of the game. As a result, we were no longer able to create decent chances, and we had to helplessly witness Milan’s late escape from our previously established deadly grip. What a shame!
To be fair, Milan produced the best chances in the latter part second half, but a combination of woeful finishing on their part and a very impressive defensive display by our back-five, ensured that we were able to keep a clean sheet till the end.
We played without fear and with real verve, especially in the first half. And in a transitional year like this, it is immensely important that Arsenal was able to erase the memory of the 4-0 drumming by the Rossoneri three weeks ago, by winning with a convincing display and a big margin last night.
Games like these build belief and character, and this ‘new’ team – as in a rapidly developing/gelling group of players – became a lot closer and stronger on this fantastic night of football at THOF.
We will never know for sure whether we would have won this game, with the required bigger margin to go through to the next round, if the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Diaby and Arteta would have been fit and available last night. In my view, just two of those on the bench would have been enough for Arsenal to be able to enter a plan-B in the second half, and go through to the next round. We really only had a Plan-A for this game due to the many injuries of our midfielders, and in the end it was just not enough to complete the miracle.
The boys have done us proud with a passionate and high-quality performance, and last night they showed us all that we continue to belong in the Champions League. The squad will develop further in the next few months, and hopefully we will be a bit less unlucky with regards to long-term injuries to key players, and in key positions next year. On top of that, we can add one or two players in the summer, and then we should be able to push all the way, in the PL and CL, from next season onwards.
I would like to finish with a few special mentions:
For the boys who came through the youth ranks, Szczesny and Gibbs: they were absolutely amazing and how good is it to see that our own talents are making it at the highest level;
For the partnership between TV and Koz that performed so well last night (a little bit against my expectations);
For that performance by Sagna last night: what a warrior, a legend in the making;
For the rejuvenated Rosicky, who played an absolute blinder last night; (especially the first hour or so);
For the battling Alex Song, who completed a very difficult task of holding a midfield almost continuously on his own;
And for the incredible, truly wonderful performance by the Ox, who became a man last night.