A slow, tentative Arsenal team visited Milan in Champions League knock-out play yesterday, and by god were their frailties exposed. Milan ended 4-o winners on the night, and that was a kind scoreline to the Londoners. Milan, far from the best squad they’ve ever had, abused Arsenal’s weak defense, and if Pato and Nocerino had been more composed it could have easily been six goals to the rossoneri.
Milan is not exactly impressive. They don’t seem that inspired in their build up play. Most times they try and bypass the midfield with a lob to Ibrahimovich, hoping the big Swede can bring the ball down and hold it until reinforcements arrive. Last night, it worked – a lot.Whenever he gets the ball it just feels confusing. He’s a big, weird looking, lanky guy with enormous feet. He’s fast, technical and can score, but none of it seems like it should ever happen because he’s just so strangely constructed. His weird little mustache and ponytail give the impression of a sideshow magician, and maybe that’s what he is, an oddly proportioned freak with just enough magic to befuddle defenders.
Ibra has taken flack over the years for his lack of scoring in Champions League play, and last night was no different, except he was playing a team with an incredibly porous defense who let him run the channels at will and spray passes all around the attacking third. He was supported by Boateng, who played well enough but never really seems fully in control of his body. When Boateng gets the ball you don’t think, “oh he’s going to unlock the defense this time.” Robinho was similarly uninspired, even though he put two goals past Szczęsny.
Still, Arsenal’s defense was just so poor. So, so poor. It didn’t matter that Milan aren’t a giant this year. The marking was poor, the high line they play just invites a ball over the top and a rush to goal (which they can’t handle),and then there’s Johan Djourou. This guy has no business being on the field. If he was a true talent, wouldn’t he have been in Africa with the rest of the Côte d’Ivoire team, losing to Zambia? No, he’s playing in the Champions League away to Milan – a team that has won seven European championships to Arsenal’s zero.
Milan’s defense never had to deal with any serious challenges. And Arsenal’s bread-and-butter – their wing play – was severely negated by both their lack of passion and the terrible condition of the pitch. Seriously, the field looked like a polo match had been played on it the day before. The wings, in particular, were chewed up. No coincidence perhaps that Milan play a compact diamond in the center of the field with very little wing play, while Arsenal spend most of their time advancing the ball up the wings. But yesterday I can’t even remember seeing Sagna or Gibbs bomb forward, and it wasn’t until the introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain that Arsenal made their way down the left flank.
In the end, I never thought Arsenal were going to win that game, but I didn’t think they were going to be humiliated. But they were, and by a Milan team that is just not very good. Arsenal will probably win 2-0 in London, but it won’t be enough. Considering Milan went out at this stage of the competition the last three years, they were lucky to meet such a week side in the round of sixteen.