the preparations for Milan begin in earnest now. The team travel to Italy today and the latest news we have regarding injuries and absences is that Per Mertesacker has gone to Germany to meet with their national team doctor regarding his injury. The German press say the results of an MRI he had here were ‘inconclusive’ but I suspect this is more about getting a second opinion than not knowing exactly how serious the damage is.
There’s a suggestion surgery could be involved, which would obviously be a very bad thing. If we use Andre Santos as a reference point, he’s been gone since the start of December and isn’t expected back for at least another three or four weeks. That kind of time frame would be nigh on seasoning end for Mertesacker, so if second opinions or anything else might prevent that then I think we’re right to try and explore it.
We should get more detail on that from Arsene later on. There’s the usual pre-game press conference scheduled for Milan later on, plus it’s not unusual for the manager to give a press briefing before they leave for away games in Europe, so let’s hope for some good news. On the face of it, it didn’t look as if we’d suffered any other problems against Sunderland so other than the BFG we should be relatively fit and healthy.
And we go into the game boosted by the weekend’s comeback against Sunderland, which the boss says will give the team a ‘massive lift’. And in typically Arsene fashion, he’s looking for the team to be ‘audacious’ at the San Siro, knowing how important an away goal is:
You always have to push for a goal when you play away in the first leg because it gives you a cushion for the second leg. We will try to score, of course – we always do. The system rewards the audacious away from home.
The way it is with the away goal, you have to be focused to score and therefore it is important that you play your game.
Having the second leg at home is certainly an advantage and if we can do anything like we did the last time we played at in Milan then we’ll be in very good shape indeed. That’s a lot to hope for, in fairness, but Aaron Ramsey seems confident, saying:
If we can go there and get a few goals and then come back to the Emirates then that’s going to be a fantastic result for us.
Hopefully, we can get a couple of goals and keep them out as well.
A few? A couple? I’d take one, I’m not greedy, but we do have to find the balance between having a go and making sure we’re defensively solid. As mentioned yesterday clean sheets, while not quite few and far between, aren’t as commonplace as we might like. And we know well how conceding can have an impact on the second leg of a European tie. Still, it promises to be a very interesting game, and there’ll be more focus on that tomorrow.
And while all eyes will definitely be on the Champions League game, I do wonder already about the effects of midweek travel and the exertions of the game itself on the team selection for Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Sunderland. You’d have to think some measure of rotation is inevitable, and the manager’s got to marry the need for silverware, with the need to rest players who are playing often, and with the fact that we’ve got a huge league game against Sp*rs the following weekend.
Add to that the fact that if we draw on Saturday the replay would take place in midweek at home, meaning that full seven days rest and recuperation we hope to have would be interrupted. Now, on paper it all sounds tiring but the reality is this is the kind of schedule we’ve had to deal with plenty of times before – and tiredness is never a good excuse (especially when lots of the players are fresh as daisies after injury lay-offs and other circumstances). I can understand why the manager would need to rotate for the weekend but this season, perhaps more than any other under Arsene’s reign, the need to take the cup as seriously as possible is enormous. I’m definitely getting ahead of myself here but it’s certainly going to be a talking point over the next few days.
In other news, Thierry Henry has quite pointedly (in my opinion) heaped praise on Andrei Arshavin for the cross which led to the winner against Sunderland. If it boosts his confidence then it can be no bad thing, and while I’ve been hugely impressed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I do wonder if the boss has any worries about starting him in such a huge arena as the one we’ll play in tomorrow night. Personally, I’d love to see him against Milan, I think it could suit him very well, but it’s not unlike Arsene to be a bit conservative at times with his team selection.
I don’t think one cross is enough to suggest an Arshavin recall but stranger things have happened. Which would be more audacious, playing The Ox or bringing back the Russian? Realistically I think he’ll look at the fact that Arshavin had an impact off the bench and will want to see more of that before he returns him to the starting line-up, and the bottom line is that the more competition there is for place the better off we’ll be.
Bonus reading: Clarence Seedorf wary of exploding RVP – worth it just for comment number 7.
Right, that’s that, a full look at the Milan game tomorrow, more injury and team news and the rest throughout the day over on Arseblog News.