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Thursday 21 February 2008

Here's Hoping Cesc Is Saving His Sweetest Music For The San Siro

I could've killed my missus when we got home tonight and I'd discovered she'd changed channels on the TV in the living room. The last thing I said to her was that she shouldn't turn over because I planned on rewinding the Sky Plus gadget when we got home to watch the highlights.

Thinking she was doing me a favour, when Róna walked in the living room and found the TV switched off, she turned it on and changed channels over to the Sky Sports channel covering the Arsenal game, not realising that it had purposely been left on Sky Sports 1 because that's the channel that reviews all the games.

Still at least I was able to inflict the painful act of masochism upon myself, reviewing those last few minutes of injury time. In the stadium, I along with every other Gooner, hollered in agony when Ade's header bounced off the cross bar. I think we all thought he had missed a sitter but I have a little more sympathy for him after having watched the replay, as it wasn't anything like as easy an opportunity as I'd first thought. The cross was hit with such pace that it made it a much more tricky task to redirect the ball than it appeared to be when watching live.

If anything, I am more upset with Manny Eboué for curling his second-half shot wide of the far post, when he should really have at least hit the target. What's more, I am sure I'm not the only one who would have much preferred for him to have stayed on his feet and tried to create an opportunity, instead of diving to the ground in a blatant effort to con the referee. Unlike some, I do think the Ivorian youngster has sufficient natural ability to be worth persevering with, but Wenger rapidly needs to knock some sense into him and force Eboué to grow up, as he has such an infuriatingly immature attitude that if Arsène doesn't 'fait attention' Manny could soon become the Gooner boo-boys favourite target.

I was gutted when I arrived at the ground tonight and saw us line-up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Eduardo out wide and Hleb allegedly supporting Adebayor. Personally I've always felt that playing at home and especially in a game of such significance, with a lone striker, is far too timid an approach and is throwing away home advantage, as it kind of suggests to the opposition that we are more concerned with thwarting them in midfield, than scoring ourselves.

Arsène used this same formation and I have to admit, to good effect, earlier on in the season. Although back then, with Van Persie injured and Eduardo and Bendtner having yet to establish themselves, it was kind of excusable because AW didn't really have many other options.

However as we once again saw in the first-half this evening, Hleb just doesn't have the pace, or the attacking instincts to be able to support a lone front-man and although Adebayor worked like a Trojan as usual, he struggled for much of the evening with his first touch and looked far too isolated for pretty much all of the first 45.

You only had to see the post-match interview after the Blackburn game to appreciate how unsuited Alex is to a role supporting the striker. Whilst presenting Hleb with his man of the match champers, the commentator asked Adebayor about his goal and Ade said something to the effect of "well when I saw Alex with the ball in front of goal, I knew he was NEVER going to shoot....!"

I was delighted to see us start the second half, having raised the intensity of our play several notches. It lifted the crowd and created the sort wave of relentless pressure, of the sort that all too often we only see in the last ten minutes of a match, where we desperately need a goal (when it is often all too little, too late). So I thought that in this instance, at least we were giving ourselves plenty of time to "give it a real go".

However in truth, we really needed to score during that first fifteen minutes of the second half and to make our dominance count. Without the all important goal during that period, the intensity of the crowd eventually began to wane and with it, our lifeforce on the pitch slowly began to fizzle out.

For my money, Eduardo should have joined Ade up front from the start of the second-half, to really turn the screw and test the Italian side. As it was, with the Togonator on his own, we rarely got into the situation where AC Milan's defence was stretched, as by the time our midfield had caught up with the play, they were invariably able to get enough men behind the ball to make it impossible for us to find an opening.

Meanwhile there were plenty of positives to take from the game and although I imagine the bookies will have the Rossoneri down as favourites to go through from the second leg, I still quite fancy our chances. Aside from the quintessential elegance of Kaka, I saw very little to fear from this AC Milan side. Until Messi arrived on the scene, Kaka was my favourite non-Arsenal player. There's a grace about the way in which he plays the game which reminds me of Dennis Bergkamp at his best. Like all great players Kaka always seems to create time and space on the ball where none should exist at the heart of such a frantic fray.

At his best Clarence Seedorf  was a formidable box-to-box player, but his best is some way behind him and although he remains a threat when he's on the ball, he no longer has the legs to effect the influence he once had at both ends of the pitch. And so a flagging Seedorf was replaced on 86 minutes by another old man, Emerson, who has what my old man would call a "wavy" hairstyle, as in waving goodbye!

With such an aged side, I was disappointed to see Arsène bring Theo on with only a minute left on the clock. I can't imagine what a wind up it must be for a player to hardly be given enough time to get over to his position. I guess it's the footballing equivalent of a p**** tease! What was the point. Although I guess the answer to this question was seen in the way Theo very nearly created a goal!

But if he really wanted to test Theo's pace, against legs that were rapidly filling with lactic acid, Arsène should've at least have given him 10/15 minutes, to actually give Theo a chance to make some impact. Then I suppose Theo did more in his all too brief time on the pitch than Milan's new young striking prodigy, who hardly got a look in all game. Personally I have never been that enamoured with Milan's striking alternatives, as I've always seen Inzaghi in the Robbie Keane mould, in as much as he wastes far more chances then he scores. And Gilardihno doesn't exactly strike the fear of g-d into me and so I really don't think we have anything to fear when we travel to the San Siro.

Then again, the Italian's are the past masters in soaking up the pressure for much of the ninety minutes and then hitting teams with a single sucker punch. Yet at least playing at home they should be obliged to show a little more adventure, which will hopefully mean there will be some space for us to exploit, which wasn't the case this evening.

As far as I'm concerned, it is all down to Fabregas. We badly need Cesc to have a big game in the return leg as it seems to me that the Arsenal only ever really begin to tick when Cesc is on song, which wasn't really the case this evening. I believe Gattuso is only just back from injury, but "Growl" was quite inconspicuous tonight. However I would guess that this could be one of the key battles in the San Siro, along with the Flamster keeping Kaka quite.

The other positive for me was the performance of Senderos. I imagine Phillipe must have been bricking it when Kolo limped out so early. A couple of months back, few would've fancied our chances against Milan if we had to rely on Senderos instead of Touré, but Big Phil has produced a few, very near faultless performance in Kolo's absence and he seems to be gaining (or regaining) more composure with every passing game. 

Sadly Senderos still doesn't appear to have that Tony Adams like quality (which is purely down to experience) of being able to cope with much pacier forwards, by allowing himself a yard of space to accomodate the striker's superior acceleration.  That would be my main worry with Senderos playing alongside Gallas in the second leg, as AC Milan seemed to spend much of this evening attempting to test our two centre-backs, by putting balls behind them for the nippy Pato to run for.

Pato may not have troubled us tonight, but there were a couple of instances where he looked to have the legs on Willie in a straight race for the ball. Hopefully Kolo's knock won't prove too serious. It looked innocuous enough, as he appeared to hurt his knee when the ball hit it?

But if we do end up relying on Senderos, I for one won't be in nearly such a flap as I would've been a few weeks back. Although I do get frustrated with Philippe, as when I have seen him play for the Swiss national team alongside Djourou, Senderos seems to wreak havoc in the opposition's area at set-pieces, whereas I've rarely ever seen him get his head on the ball for us.

Meanwhile Flamini, Clichy and Sagna were all magnificent tonight and reminded us exactly what we were missing at Old Trafford last Saturday. Whereas those who were selected but who patently failed to turn up on Saturday, in my mind they still owe us big time for such an embarrassing debacle. Here's hoping they settle this debt in the San Siro, as I'm certain if Cesc is on song, we'll all end up singing a victory tune


Anonymous said...

Re: Eboue, I dont think he dived at all. His toes were trod on and he fell forward. Check out the replay.

Anonymous said...

For decades, British teams have thrown players forward to try to kill off Italian teams and for decades, the Italians have soaked up the pressure and scored on the counter; 1-0 and it's thank you and good night!

We are slowly learning. Capello wants England to play like Arsenal; keep the ball down, move it along the ground over short distances and, above all, don't give it away cheaply.

The key to these difficult two-legged knock-out ties is not to lose the game early; the Italians will wait until the 175th minute to nick the winner.

So, why do you advocate piling people up front and going for broke from the kick off?? It would be madness and we would probably be out of the tie by now.

Wenger has learnt to play a more sophisticated game now. Players like Eduardo are very effective in front of goal but he also did a magnificent job helping Clichy last night, who needed his help.

We have to keep focused and be happy not to win the game until the very end; I could envisage us winning the next leg in extra time with a signature goal from Theo Walcott but it is important that we don't give it away before then. I am quite confident we can do a job in the San Siro. We have a good record away to Italian teams and I think Ancelotti is right to be concerned.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the photo of Abedayor's late miss? An opponent very obviously held him back by his shirt. Penalty. Damn...

I hope you're right that we can still get the job done at the San Siro. I was confident we'd be able to beat Man U at Old Trafford the other week... We all know how that turned out... :-(

BTW: nice blog. Enjoy reading it.

Gooner in Thailand.