tonight we try and do the almost impossible and overturn a four goal deficit against AC Milan. It has been done before in Europe. Real Madrid (85-86), Leixões SC (61-62) and FK Partizan (84-85) have all done it in the UEFA Cup or Cup Winners Cup but it’s never been done in the Champions League.
AC Milan did get turned over 4-0 by Deportivo la Coruña in 2003-4 having beaten the Spanish side 4-1 in the game at the San Siro, and we’ll have to improve on that if we want to go through tonight. Arsene says we’re gonna go for it and that Robin van Persie will start, saying:
I would not be very credible to tell you we want to score five goals and then leave Robin van Persie out.
The main issue though is in midfield. Arteta is out, thanks to Jordan Henderson’s off the ball shenanigans, Diaby is out due to being Diaby, while Yossi Benayoun has tweaked a hamstring. On top of all the other injuries that leaves the manager with just Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky as fit midfielders, and even still there are doubts over the latter.
All of which means the manager is considering a change of formation, partly due to the fact we need to put the emphasis on attack, partly because we just don’t have any choice. He says:
At the moment, basically I have only two midfielders, Song and Rosicky. That means we have to play with four strikers. I have 24 hours and I have to see if Rosicky is available or not. If he is not available then I will be in a very difficult situation, because I don’t know what I can do then.
I can play six strikers if I want, I have enough. I have Chamakh, Park, Van Persie, Gervinho, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. I can take a risk, because I have no choice, basically.
It does sound as if he’s considering a 4-4-2 and if Rosicky does miss out then Oxlade-Chamberlain will be used as a central midfielder, which is always the position the manager has said he’ll end up playing. I don’t think there was any plan to play him there this early but when you’ve got no other choice he’s not the worst option to chuck in at the deep end.
I know there are some who will wince at the idea of van Persie starting a game which is, for all intents and purposes, a dead rubber, but under the circumstances I don’t see that we have much choice. A lot of people have paid a lot of money for tickets for this game and they deserve to see a team that has at least a ghost of a chance. Worries about injury are valid enough, I guess, but in that case we should stop him training because he’s as likely to pick up a knock, or pull a muscle, there as in a match.
Realistically the chances of scoring enough to go through are slim but that doesn’t mean we should just go through the motions. Milan away was a low point in this season and while talking of restoring pride etc is par for the course, we should look at this as a way of getting another win under our belts and boosting our confidence even further.
We just tonked Sp*rs and beaten Liverpool away, climbing back into fourth, and a win tonight, even if it’s not enough to send us through, would help maintain the momentum which is going to be important as we head into the latter stages of the season. And if by some footballing miracle, some quirk of fate, we manage to do the impossible, then great. I’ve don’t really have any expectation of that but I do expect the team to want to show that what happened in Milan wasn’t truly representative of them.
Football is a funny old game but I don’t think it’s as funny as we need it to be tonight. All the same, if we can put in a decent performance and win the game then I’ll be happy enough with our night’s work, even if it won’t fully make up for the poor display in San Siro a few weeks ago. We know how dangerous Milan can be, how they can hurt us, but you have to say in that first leg we were like a boxer in a movie.
You know the kind, when he’s getting pounded in the face over and over again and you’re saying ‘Hold your hands up’, ‘Why aren’t you protecting yourself, you silly boxer?!’, and after round upon round of punishment he gives them one punch and suddenly he remembers how to box and then batters his opponent unconscious. We let Milan be as good as they were in the first leg, I don’t expect that to happen again. Whether or not we can land all the punches we need to is another question, but at least let’s give it a go.
In other news, Mikel Arteta has said thanks to pretty much everyone except Jordan Henderson after being knocked halfway into next week by the overpriced clogger’s shoulder. I know I shouldn’t be but I’m a bit surprised there hasn’t been more said about the incident, especially from our point of view, but there you go.
And normally Tim from 7amkickoff has his ‘By the numbers’ piece up on Arseblog News shortly after the game, this time it was delayed because he was a long way from home (at the game), so here it is now. As well as the usual statsy goodness, it draws some very interesting comparisons between Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas. Seriously.
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Right, that’s that. Let’s see what happens later on. Come on Arsenal.