Arsenal put in an excellent performance at home to AC Milan in their Champions League first-leg clash but did not get the result they deserved after being held to a scoreless draw by the Italian club. The home side put a huge amount of pressure on the Champions League holders but were eventually frustrated after missing a number of good chances, the clearest of which a last-minute header from Emmanuel Adebayor that crashed against the crossbar.
I watched this one at home and was thrilled to have company in the shape of my new roommate – Anita – who agreed to get up nice and early with me (5.30am in Australia) to add some moral support. Not exactly the biggest football fan in the world, Anita did happen to grow an affection towards Olympique Lyonnais – and Juninho in particular – during some time spent in France and to my astonishment knew a few of the players in the Arsenal side (“Isn’t that the German goalkeeper from the World Cup?”). Needless to say, I was pretty stoked.
While it’s probably not that big a deal to most of you who read the blog to hear of a female supporter who is not only interested in European football but also knows a little bit about it, in Australia it’s something of rarity. Indeed, I may just have found the perfect roommate – I of course say that with the greatest deal of respect to my other roommate Antony, who lay fast asleep in his room while Anita and I sipped tea and cheered on the Arsenal boys. I promised Anita that it would be a great game and even despite the lack of goals by the end she agreed that it was. I guess the evidence came through the fact that she did not fall back asleep at any time.
Arsenal were dominant throughout the match and created more than enough chances to win the game. But the goal never came and now Arsene Wenger and his side will travel to Italy with the knowledge that a loss will put them out, while a score-draw or win will see them through. Rather than go through all the events of the match, as many other Arsenal blogs have done already, I thought I’d go through the some of the key moments and observations I took out of the match.
- Overall, a great performance by the team. Would have won the game had it not been for the less-than-perfect finishing and a couple of poor final passes.
- The only real clear-cut chance was Emmanuel Adebayor’s header.
- Biggest missed opportunities were Adebayor and Emmanuel Eboue’s overhit final towards the end of each half. A better pass by Adebayor in a particular would have allowed a tap-in for Cesc Fabregas.
- Eboue incident not a penalty. It may have been had he not dived so extravagantly.
- Mathieu Flamini was outstanding, while Alexandr Hleb and Fabregas clicked into gear early in the second half but then faded a little bit towards the end.
- Philippe Senderos and William Gallas were magnificent. The pace of Europe seems to suit Senderos a great deal more than the quicker Premiership.
- Fabregas’ balls over the top to Adebayor were a deliberate and effective idea. They will ensure Milan are made to keep guessing about how Arsenal will play the second leg.
- Having to defend more may even suit us away from home. Carlo Ancelotti will be very wary of Arsenal and it could be a very similar game again.
- The team did more than enough to suggest that they can get the result they need at the San Siro.
Confidence still high
It all added up to a disappointing result despite an excellent performance by Wenger’s side. However, as my last point stresses, they are very much still in this tie. Indeed, Arsenal are virtually in the same position that Manchester United were in following their 3-2 first-leg win over Milan in last year’s competition: needing to draw or win at the San Siro to qualify. Unlike Manchester United – who were shorn of two first-choice defenders and had to rush Nemajnda Vidic back into the side – I feel Arsenal have the defensive qualities required to stop Milan swinging the tie their way by grabbing a goal. The longer the game stays goalless at the San Siro the more likely Arsenal will go through and if the entire backline is fit and Flamini is available then I think it’s a job that can be done.
Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that the failure to win the match has affected the players too much. Indeed, both Adebayor and Fabregas were positive about their side’s chances of getting the result they require to knock Milan out of the competition. The former revealed his determination to make amends for his late miss on Wednesday night while the latter spoke of his delight with the performance against Milan despite the reward of a goal.
“We are a positive side, we are young but, having seen what we have seen tonight, we can cope with their pace, their experience and we can create chances. If we can score a goal I think we have a good opportunity to go through.”
And he’s absolutely right. As I said before, if Arsenal score then Milan need two and given the way that the boys have been performing defensively of late – the Manchester debacle aside – I would back them to go through, even despite the fact that neither Robin van Persie nor Kolo Toure look like they will be available for the match. Many supporters were expecting van Persie to play some part in the second leg but Wenger has since revealed that he is in no hurry to rush the Dutchman back. On a more positive note, it seems that the calf injury that Toure sustained against Milan on Wednesday was not as serious as first expected, yet the Ivorian is still expected to spend at least two weeks on the sideline.
On a final note I just want to say how extremely proud I was of the boys performance against Milan. After the embarrassing result against United the team needed to put up a good fight and they did just that, playing Milan off the park despite getting the result their performance deserved. I think most supporters will agree that it’s going to be an incredibly tight second leg but after Wenger’s side’s effort in the first leg I’m quietly confident that they will get through. And so, incidentally, is Anita.
That’s about it for today. If you haven’t already done so make sure you enter O2’s Arsenal Opus competition for a chance to win your own copy of the epic Arsenal Opus book signed by Arsene Wenger. It’s a great prize that you can win simply by voting for your favourite Arsenal photo from a collection of 11 selected by Wenger himself. Good luck!
What do you think?
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