Writer: Nick Simmonett
Date:Monday March 3 2008
Come May Arsenal could be looking back at this game and saying 'we're where we are now because of that game.' Of course, there could be very different reasons for saying that. It could be said because Arsenal progressed, and gained the confidence needed to win the Premiership and/or the Champions League.
Or it could of course, be the game that destroys confidence and Arsenal throw away their slender lead at the top of the Premiership and finish the season trophyless. Of course, those scenarios are the two extreme's, but you get the idea.
In my preview of the first leg I said that a lot of people had under-estimated Milan, and that they would pose a much bigger threat than people believed. In the first leg Milan's attack didn't turn up, but their defence definantly did. They were the 8 players in control for most of the game.
In the second leg their attacking midfielders will turn up, and influence the game more. Kaka will like Pirlo's footballing brain with their strikers lethal threat, and their entire team will turn up.
Despite the fact that some people think I was wrong in my claims that Milan were being under-estimated prior to the first leg I'm going to issue the same warning: Milan pose a much, much bigger threat to Arsenal than many people believe. I inclued Lee Dixon when I say that. He told the BBC that Arsenal will beat Milan. He does explain his reasoning, which is more than most people are doing, but I think even he has under-estimated them.
I must admit though that I too under-estimated Milan before the first leg. I didn't think their defence was as solid as it is. We think United, Chelsea and Liverpool have a solid back line. They're nothing compared to the defensive display that Milan put on two weeks ago.
They'll line up on Tuesday with the intention of attacking a little more, but they will have at least 10 uber-cool heads out there, and they'll not crumble under any pressure.
I've made Milan sound invincible but they're most definantly not. Arsenal have youth on their side, and there's not a fitter team in Europe. Arsene Wenger was spot on when he said that Milan will slow the game down to their pace. If we don't allow them to do that, and zip the ball around like we did at the start of the season and we will cause them all sorts of problems in the last 20 minutes. They started to tire towards the end of the first leg, despite it being played at a reasonable tempo.
Milan may be favorites (21/20 with William Hill, while Arsenal are 23/10) but their form is by no means outstanding. They've won only one of their last six games (a 2-1 home win over Palermo). They've also conceeded in each of their last three home games. Only one in each game, but one is all it takes in the Champions League.
Arsenal's form isn't great either. They've won only 2 of their last six games, and haven't won in their last four games. Their last win came on the 11th february when they beat Blackburn 2-0.
Arsenal will have to look at Milan and learn how to be as solid at the back. If they can do that, then the rest will all fall in to place. Senderos needs to bounce back from his unfortunate own goal, something I'm not sure he can do. If he's got the confidence he can deal with Milan, but he wont have, I don't think.
AC Milan defender Massimo Oddo admits that his side were lucky in the first leg: 'We were a bit lucky in London.
'Especially with the last move of the match, so we'll settle for the draw. We lacked a little bit of incisiveness in attack and maybe we didn't counterattack quickly enough.
It wasn't exactly a vintage performance but we managed to hang in there; we were very compact and the result could certainly serve us well for the return leg.'
He described Arsenal as 'devestating' but says Milan can take advantage of Arsenal's back-line: 'Arsenal are a devastating side. They run a lot and are very organised but they make a number of mistakes at the back and we can certainly hurt them. Adebayor, in particular, is a good player but, more than that, they are very good at creating space as a team.
They continually swap positions and create space, and before you know it the area left by one player has been filled by another team-mate, so you must always be very careful.
'Pace and Patience' are what Arsene Wenger says Arsenal will need in Milan: 'I do not like to go away from home thinking my team just has to defend. '
With a 0-0 result, we know that we have to attack as well as defend.
'From the first game, we have the belief we can beat them because we dominated the game - that always has an impact on the second game.
'We will need patience against them in Milan but our pace can be a good asset as well.'
Wenger highlighted just how easily Milan destoryed Man United in 20 minutes last season's competition, and stressed that his team must not hide: 'We have to be tight defensively out there because they tore Man United apart in the first 20 minutes of the second leg at the San Siro last season.
'It is important for us to start strongly in defence, but also not to hide every time we win the ball.
'What is good from the first result is we know every time we get the ball we are incited to go for a goal. When you win 2-0 away from home sometimes subconsciously you think you only have to defend.
On that basis 0-0 is not a bad result because you know defence is not good enough. You know will have to attack as well.'
Milan have been boosted by the return of four players. Kaka, Nesta, Maldini and Pirlo all return for the Rossoneri.
'They are all in a good condition to play and have worked excellently this week in training to ensure they would be ready for this game,' said Carlo Ancelotti.
However, Seedorf has almost no chance of returning. Dida also remains sidelined.
I was torn between Kaka, Maldini and Inzaghi. All three can influence the game in different ways.
Maldini can shut out just about any striker in the world with his excellent positioning and outstanding reading of the game. He kept Arsenal quiet in the first leg, and could do the same thing on Tuesday.
Inzaghi is a goal scorer, that's it. He doesn't defend, he doesn't chase lost causes, he doesn't create chances for others. He just scores goals.
But Kaka can change a game in the blink of an eye. A piece of skill, a mind-blowing run or a rasping shot. He can do anything with the ball. Arsenal may have kept him quiet in the first leg, but it'll be a different ball game altogher in the second leg.
There's mixed news for Arsenal. The fantastic news is that Robin Van Persie will return for Arsenal. He will take part in a match for the first time in two months, so we shouldn't expect too much from him, but his return is a massive boost.
The bad news is that Kolo Toure hasn't recovered and didn't travel. He's expected to return against this weekend.
Alex Song is still some way from fitness as he recovers from a medial knee ligament injury.
Eduardo will obviously be missing with his broken leg. Tomas Rosicky is the only other player out for Arsenal.
Johan Djourou has recovered but didn't travel to Milan.
As with Milan, I was torn between three players here. Gallas, Fabregas and Adebayor.
Everyone will be looking to Gallas for leadership, and he'll step up. He'll keep everyone on their toes for the entire game, while he's sure to inspire plyers like Fabregas.
Adebayor will pose Arsenal's biggest goal threat, but he's yet to score in the Champions League this season, and his goals have dried up a bit in recent weeks.
Fabregas is to Arsenal what Pirlo is to Milan, with a little added extra. Both players can dictate the pace of a game and cotrol everything from the middle of the park. Fabregas offers a goal threat that Pirlo does not.
If Arsenal are going to keep the tempo high tomorrow then he will be at the heart of it.
Austrian Konrad Plautz will referee the game, while fellow countrymen Egon Bereuter and Markus Mayr will do their part on the touchline.
My heart says Arsenal will sneak it 1-0 or 1-1, but he head says we'll lose. Milan will be too strong at both ends of the pitch for Arsenal. 2-1 Milan. :-(
Date:Monday March 3 2008
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