AC Milan Preview: San Siro IV
There is a feeling of a long running and hugely entertaining film franchise here. Arsenal return to the San Siro, the scene of some of the greatest riumphs in the club’s history. Memories of thrashing Internazionale and outplaying Milan are wonderful but they are just that; great memories. They are entirely irrelevant to this evening, as meaningful as Milan outplaying Arsenal in 1995.
Team selection was made a little ‘easier’ for Arsène – albeit not in a manner that he would like – with Per Mertesacker’s collapse at the Stadium of Light seemingly as serious as it looked at the time. Reports suggest that his injury is similar to that of Andre Santos suggesting that a four week absence is overly optimistic.
There was better news although contradictory, about Jack Wilshere. The youngster is apparently making good progress and is aiming for a return at the end of March with a caveat of caution applied. Not that the media are worrying from an Arsenal perspective; no, the paucity of English talent means that young Wilshere will be one of the Three Lions; that there are eight pussycats making up the rest of the team highlights England’s problems.
Kieran Gibbs return makes life somewhat easier for the manager defensively with Vermaelen slotting in alongside Koscielny in the centre. That pairing is not the one originally thought of when the German initially signed for the club. Koscielny at the time was favourite to make way for Mertesacker but such as his form been this season, to me it is inconceivable that the Frenchman is not one of the first choice pairing.
Considering how damaging mentally the last minute at Wembley in February 2011 must have been for Koscielny, his improvement in form and the consistency is a tremendous advertisment for the dedication required to reach the top level of the game. Of course, he has to stay there now and in itself, that is perhaps where Mertesacker will be missed the most; his absence eases the pressure that depth in a squad brings albeit only slightly.
He can do no better than follow the example of Thierry Henry. As he plays his final Arsenal game for the second time in his career, Henry noted that he is never satisfied with his performances,
You can always do more. I was in the dressing room thinking I missed a chance against Aston Villa when I came on and should have put the ball in the back of the net. But if you had asked me if I would rather have scored against Villa or this one against Sunderland, I think I would have chosen this opportunity against Sunderland. You can always do better, that is always what I tell myself.
It is harsh on himself but underlines the attitude required to succeed at the top. The manager talks of a top three place being achievable; if that happens surely credit must be directed to Henry who Thomas Vermaelen believes, has had a massive impact.
That may be needed this evening. Rightly complimentary about the ability of Arsenal to recover deficits, Aaron Ramsey overlooked one key aspect. In the Champions League, defences at this stage and beyond are considerably better organised than those of Aston Villa and Sunderland. Better not to concede at all.
Crucial to this evening will be the width Arsenal have. Theo Walcott will be an automatic starter on the right. On the left is a different issue. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has done well in his recent run in the side but tonight is an altogether different and more unforgiving arena. He will be required to work harder defensively than in attack, which counts in his favour I think, when compared to Andrey Arshavin.
Yet his inexperience is a millstone. He cannot gain experience if he does not play in this type of match but can Arsenal afford to take the risk of him being exposed? I think not.
The rest of the line-up picks itself as far as I am concerned which means,
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey, Song, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin
Arsenal defend a proud record this evening. The only Italian team that has beaten Arsenal in a two-legged tie is AC Milan in 1995’s European Super Cup Final. Roma, Torino, Lazio, Udinese, Juventus, AC Milan and Sampdoria have all fallen by the wayside. In those matches, single goal defeats in the away leg have been superceded by penalty shootout victories.
Tonight we will find out how deep this current recovery runs. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.