MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 15: Thierry Henry of Arsenal pulls his socks up after coming on as a substitute during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between AC Milan and Arsenal at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15, 2012 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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"But at the start we will try to get out of our own half and try to get up there and play. Spurs won the game when they were dominated, but that is football today."
That was Arsene Wenger, yesterday. How'd that plan work out, Arsene? Not so well, did it? Why not? Well, there are several reasons why it didn't work. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, having not played together in months, had no understanding. Kieran Gibbs, back from injury, was very poor. Wojciech Szczesny can't kick the ball very far, and Alex Song had one of his worst games in living memory, utterly failing to cover Arsenal's centre back pairing. Arsenal were utterly outplayed by AC Milan, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic having a superb game. The fluidity and movement of AC Milan's two strikers and Kevin-Prince Boateng bewildered Arsenal's defensive line, who gave too much space in behind without playing pressure, something that we have discussed many times beforehand.
The clash seems to suit Arsenal more, and this performance will say a lot about them. Arsenal now play a system based around getting the ball wide and attacking quickly down the flanks - facing a narrow side that is slow at the back plays into their hands. With that in mind, if Arsenal don't come out on top here, one wonders which of Europe's big guns they would stand a chance of beating. --Zonal Marking
Wenger also made a mistake with his team selection. The San Siro pitch may have been a Little League baseball field in Chicago in the wide areas, but it is where Milan's greatest weakness is. Arsene Wenger, though, gave the initiative back to AC Milan by playing Tomas Rosicky on the left. This is not to criticise Tomas Rosicky, who was Arsenal's second best player, but to criticise the selection. AC Milan are susceptible to pace and width, but Rosicky will not give width nor will he give pace. If Wenger didn't want to play Oxlade-Chamberlain and wanted experience, he should've played Andrey Arshavin. He then compounded the problem by taking Theo Walcott off at 2-0, and moving Aaron Ramsey, who was absolutely atrocious, to right midfield. Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie created two shots together, but Arsenal had no width until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on. Oxlade-Chamberlain also created a chance for van Persie, with a brilliant cross, and didn't seem to be troubled by the pitch in the least. If Wenger's decisions were based on the quality of the pitch, he utterly misjudged how Milan would play against Arsenal. We detailed in the preview that they would press in the middle, and would block Arsenal through the middle, but Arsenal played through the middle because of the players they had.
The decision to play a high line was ludicrous; Robinho, Boateng and Antonini all got behind as Arsenal applied no pressure on Milan's biggest creative threat, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who Alex Song decided would be fine to leave alone. Song didn't attempt a single tackle, and Ibrahhimovic kept on dropping off with Robinho testing the pace of Arsenal's backline in a strike partnership reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. The tactical naivety of Arsene Wenger is something that has been exposed time and time again, but, with a poorer technical side than previous years, it is imperative that he gets his tactics right. He didn't today, and Milan deserved to win by more than 4 goals. Sure, the Arsenal players, aside from Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny, who went off injured because of the terrible pitch, were largely horrendous and blame must go to Wojciech Szczesny who gave the ball straight to Milan from a kick before the first goal, and was tentative at coming out to gather the football.
Arsenal's Champions League hopes, slim as they were, are now over. There is no way Arsenal can win by 4 or more goals at the Emirates; Milan are too strong defensively. Arsenal must concentrate their efforts on the FA Cup and finishing 4th, and hope that they do not have a massive loss of confidence with matches against Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle all to come. The motto for this season's Arsenal crest was 'Forward', but, with record defeats in the Champions League and Premier League, it seems that Arsenal have very much gone backwards.