Writer: Nick Simmonett
Date:Tuesday February 19 2008
Arsenal will be looking to bounce back from a dismal FA Cup exit when they welcome seven-time European champions, and current Champions League holders AC Milan to Ashburton Grove on Wednesday.
The Gunners have a massive point to prove on match day seven, and what better game to prove a point in than a Champions League knock out match against the Cup holders?
As Cesc pointed out in his pre-match press confrence, the players will not need any motivation to go out and get a result. That said, they will need to be at their absolute best - especially defensively. Milan have players like Kaka, Gilardino, Pato and Pirlo who are all capable of changing a game in a second, whether that be from a moment of technical genius, a superb free-kick or a towering header. Likewise, Arsenal have Fabregas, Hleb, Adebayor and Eduardo who are all equally capable of changing the game in a second.
I've been worried for a few weeks about this game, not because of the size of the task that awaits us on Wednesday, but because of the lack of respect some people have shown Milan in the build up to the game.
It's mainly been from fans, commenting on the age of the Milan team and their league posistion. More worrying are the comments made by Paul Merson last week. He said that Milan had a tough time against Celtic, so Arsenal would walk it against them. Naive words if I've ever heard them. I just hope that this lack of respect and over-confidence hasn't rubbed off onto any of the players.
Milan may be an ageing team, but they have vast experience, and that always counts for something in the Champions League, espically in the knock out rounds.
For all their attacking talent, Milan have hardly been scoring for fun in recent weeks. They've scored just six goals in their last six games while they have conceeded just one in that time. Last Six (all comps): P6 W4 D2 L0.
They've been far more ruthless in front of goal in the Champions League scoring 13 goals in their 6 group games. They won four of them, drew one and lost one.
Five of Arsenal's last six have been brilliant. They've been scoring, not conceeding. Then we played united. I don't need to tell you about that game. Last six (all comps): P6 W5 D0 L1.
Like AC Milan, Arsenal lost only one of their group matches, a 3-1 reverse away to Sevilla. They scored a tastey 16 goals in those six games.
Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo believes his team's experience will see them into the next round ahead of Arsenal: 'We are the champions and this can influence our opponents. But our experience should be the key to winning the game against Arsenal, said the Italian.'
'They have a lot of young players but they have been playing as if they were veterans of the game and have competed well in the big competitions.
'We are optimistic going into this game but we know we will need to be at our best over the two legs to get through.
'The game against Arsenal will be the most interesting tie in this round of the Champions League. I think that we are going to give great spectacle to the fans in the two games.'
Arsenal's midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas share my view that Milan have the ability to destroy a team from nothing: 'We have to be careful because of the experience they have. They can kill us in a minute.
'I really like Pirlo to be honest. He's a great player, very intelligent and a great passer of a ball. He's always looking at the best solution. There's also Kaka, who had a great year last year, and we'll have to be careful of him.
'They have many strengths not just those two. They have players who work hard for the team and they're one of the best midfields in Europe.
He also believes the team can get a win - if they're at their best: 'But we've been meeting clubs like Milan in recent years - Juventus, Real Madrid - and we know we can do it. However we'll have to be at our best.'
Arsenal recieved a massive fitness boost ahead of Milan's visit. Adebayor, Clichy, Denilson, Sagna, Senderos and Walcott will all return to the squad for Arsenal.
There is still some bad news. Arsenal will be missing six players still. Song, Almunia, Van Persie, Djourou, Rosicky and Diaby are all still missing for Arsenal.
Eduardo could find himself playing out wide, with Hleb tucked inside to help contain AC Milan's midfield threat.
With a five-man midfield likely, Cesc will have the extra protection and freedom he thrives on in the Champions League.
He'll fulfill his fair share of defensive duties, but he'll be looking to pull the strings in Milan's half at the same time. Something we all know he can do.
Milan will definantly be missing first choice 'keeper Dida, while number 2 Zeljko Kalac is a doubt with the same thumb injury that is keeping Almunia out. If Kalac fails to recover then Milan will call on Fiori, a player that hasn't played a competitive game for four years.
Pato returns, as does Gattuso. Kaka is expected to be fit, but will face a fitness test tomorrow.
Two of the best midfielders in the world.
Pirlo is the player I would say Fabregas plays most like, while Kaka is just out of this world. He can do just about anything with the ball at his feet, and Flamini will have to have the game of his life to shut him out.
Mike Riley... You wish, Fergie! Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark).
I'm going to plump for a 2-1 home win. That's right, I'm predicting an Arsenal win. The build up to this game has all the feeling of the build up to the Real Madrid game two seasons ago. Pato to give Milan the lead, before Eduardo and Adebayor hit back for Arsenal.
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Date:Tuesday February 19 2008
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