Here we go again. Champions League football is back (yeah, it was back yesterday but those were not my team) tonight. A meeting against AC Milan is one to drool over. 7 times champions of Europe, a real giant of world football. It’s a glamorous tie and this is what we’re in this competition for. I know many would prefer an easier tie but the excitement running up to this game is what it’s about.
The objective for this first leg is simple. Win the game by the odd goal and we will be in the driving seat in the second leg. We’ve got to use every advantage that the away goals rule gives us. This is not a game for us to trade jabs, it’s the knockout punch that we’re looking for (to use a boxing analogy). Just like what Barcelona did in the away leg yesterday, a 3-1 win more or less sends them to the quarter finals.
Massimiliano Allegri has got a few injuries to contend with and a whole host of player who only just started training this week. Alessandro Nesta, Mario Yepes, Pato, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mathieu Flamini all fall into the latter category. It’s not sure yet whether they will feature but looks likelier to feature from the bench when required. Flamini is of course in that list and he’s another who succumbed to the power of money.
I haven’t seen enough of Milan to tell you anything much. Only from the 10 – 15 minutes I watched each time and the musings of those on various football podcasts. Allegri was tasked with regaining the Serie A title last season but this season, his target can only be one. Silvio Berlusconi has eyes for only one trophy in the entire world and that’s the Champions League. Allegri is bound to take this encounter more seriously than the one against Tottenham last season.
There’s plenty of class and experience from those in red and black. Thiago Silva is one of the top 5 defenders in the world. Gianluca Zambrotta has bombed up and down the flanks for countless seasons. Mark Van Bommel is a crude but necessary man in midfield. In Clarence Seedorf, they have the man who have won the Champions League with 3 different clubs, a man who is rightly a role model for budding footballers.
As for Arsenal. Apart from Per Mertesacker, we will have everyone from the weekend available. There’s also a little update on Jack Wilshere. Suddenly it’s looking rosy again on his part and there’s every chance that he could still play some part this season. I’d rather he don’t play again this season but it’s not for me to call. Then again, to get a player like Wilshere back at any time, is always a good thing.
The question for the manager is who to pick to fill the left back spot. With one of the centre back position being open, chances are that Thomas Vermaelen will be the one to slot in there. While Vermaelen has played left back for some time, his presence in the middle is needed simply because the next option is Johan Djourou. The Swiss is going through a slum and it would be better not to take the risk with him tonight.
Then it’s about who to select for left back. The choice is between Bacary Sagna, Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs. I doubt Wenger would throw Gibbs in right from the start, considering that he hasn’t played any game since his recovery. It would be risky to take that chance tonight. That leaves the choice between Sagna and Coquelin. If anyone should play in an unfamiliar position then it should be the more experienced one.
After being rested for 2 games, and my doubts on whether Tomas Rosicky can play so many consecutive games, I believe that Aaron Ramsey will come back into the starting line-up. Every other place in midfield and in attack should maintain status quo. Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain may be inexperienced and the San Siro may be a daunting place to play, it will be hard to drop him for anyone else at this moment. Though, I could just about see Wenger take a chance with Andrey Arshavin.
The average age of the Milan players is significantly higher than what we have within our squad. Safe to say, there’s plenty of experience on the other side of the pitch. I don’t think Milan will resort to creating a bad pitch to counter our pace and style. That said, we can’t allow Milan to dictate the pace of the game. We must go at it with all guns blazing. We need the away goal, even a 0-0 draw is a bad result for us.
We need to fully utilise the obvious pace and stamina that comes with our youthfulness as I’m sure Milan to use every last bit of their experience and nous to counter us. There’s also some pace and trickery in the Milan side in the shape of Robinho but he has shown that even with a gaping goal, he still has the ability to miss the goal. Not that I think we should every try to prove that theory out.
In a game like this, I think 2 men would be absolutely vital to our cause. Theo Walcott has pace to burn and the further he keeps his marker pen back, the bigger the space to play in front of our midfield. The space created will also help the defence to push up and isolate Milan’s attack. The other player is Alex Song. He has to sit back and protect while allowing the full backs to bomb forward in support of the wide players. Any time that Song doesn’t cover, we could leave ourselves exposed to counter attacks.
Another night of wonderful football beckons. Nights like these are what makes Champions League the most watched football competition in the world. Now, to maintain that winning record at San Siro and give Thierry Henry the best sending off possible.
Up The Arsenal!!!