Arsenal 3 Milan 0
It was a valiant display by the boys last night and they went far closer to reversing the disastrous first left result than I expected. The general reaction has been one of ‘heroic failure’ or ‘honour restored despite defeat’. I might be being churlish but I’m not sure about that conclusion.
We played well for 45 minutes of a tie that lasted 180. Milan were befuddled by the frenzy with which we went about our task but it could only be sustained for the first half. Robin’s near miss chip-shot was our only effort of note after the interval so, really, while I applaud us for getting to within a goal of parity, we missed a great opportunity to press home the advantage fully – including injury time there was 50 odd minutes to grab a fourth.
In fact, even before fatigue set in and despite scoring three goals there were passages of our play where the passing was poor and other openings were spurned. That just got worse in the second half where for long spells we struggled to even get the ball off Milan.
But what really makes me dubious that honour was restored is the first leg performance. It just gets worse and worse the more I think about it.
There were three differences between the XIs we faced – including Prince Boateng and Seedorf who were missing last night – but that’s no excuse for the woeful showing in Italy. Nor was the fact that our pitch was made of grass while the San Siro is predominantly mud and lumps – both teams shared the same turf and they seemed to cope just fine. A good 45 minutes has not repaired the damage that was done three weeks ago.
The brightest spot again was the quality of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Until he appeared to pull his hamstring early in the second half he had shown terrific confidence and quality. He has an air of assurance about him that suggests he’ll make the right decision and pick the right pass. He looked very much at home in a central position and the prospect of him teaming up with Jack Wilshere once he returns is an exciting one.
I said before the first leg that I thought Milan were there for the taking and our first half last night showed why. We could have gone a lot further in this competition with a favourable draw (ie avoiding Barcelona and Real Madrid) but we just didn’t turn up for the first leg. It wasn’t merely our defending or attacking that was at fault but our attitude to that game that cost us. That we put so much effort into what was essentially always a hopeless task last night makes it even more painful.
Back to the positives…
At least the possibility we will be back in the competition next season is looking stronger. I didn’t write about Saturday’s win at Liverpool at the time but, in short, we rode our luck but got a very valuable win.
It kept the positive form of the Spurs game going and the win last night – plus a very welcome clean sheet, however fortunate it was – builds on that. In the league, we have ticked off two of the toughest challenges we faced in our run-in. Chelsea have sacked their manager and replaced him with an even more inexperienced stand-in; Spurs have hit a sticky spell. Lady luck is working in our favour at the moment and the last ‘end is nigh’ crisis period after the Milan and Sunderland defeats seems a while ago.
There are some tricky fixtures to come, including a couple of uncomfortable away trips, but if we show the attitude of the last few matches until the end of the season we can ask no more in the short-term.