Friday, March 9, 2012

Arsenal 3 AC Milan 0 (Champions League Round of Last 16 Second Leg)

As we said in the previous post, this game was all about restoring the pride and keeping the momentum we have built through the last couple of league games. We didn't expect a miracle to happen or the 4-0 deficit to be overturned. However, as the game started, our players gave us hopes. The way they started was sensational. In the 6th minute, we got an early goal we wanted. Before the match, all our players were talking about this early goal. They believed that if they could get early goals, they could overturn the four-goal deficit. I must say that Arsene Wenger did a great job to make them believe after the heavy defeat at the San Siro and the subsequent mountainous task to undertake. Our players were in the absolutely right frame of mind.

At half time, we were buzzing at Las Mimosas bar. 3-0 up at half time. At this rate, scoring two more goals to see us through the tie did not look impossible at all. For most of us, except for those extremely optimistic ones, this tie was already over 3 weeks ago, but Arsenal's sublime performance in the first half allowed us to dream again about making progress in the Champions League and gave us exciting 90 minutes.

Arsene Wenger blamed fatigue for his side's failure to find an illusive fourth goal. Our midfield was so thin even before the game kicked off. On top of Jack Wilshere's long-term injury, Diaby (hamstring), Benayoun (virus), Arteta (head) and Ramsey (ankle) were out, while Coquelin was still four weeks away from fitness. Rosicky (groin) managed to pass a late fitness test, which was a big relief for Wenger, who earlier admitted he wouldn't know what to do if Rosicky was not available. The Ox took an unfamiliar central midfielder role to fill in the void Arteta left. Arsenal have been unlucky this season with injuries, which tend to concentrate on one particular position and this time it was midfield. When the intensity of the first half started taking its toll, Arsene Wenger had no option for freshening up the midfield. If he had had a couple of fresh pairs of legs to bring on, Arsenal may have completed a miracle comeback. Arshavin would have been hailed by all the fans on this occasion, if he had come off the bench to replace The Ox, who were struggling with a knock.

As well as scoring five goals, keeping a clean sheet was equally important, so the attack-defence balance was vital in this game. With little choice available in the midfield, our defensive players, including Song, put in an impressive performance to keep Ibrahimovic at bay.

Some players described the dressing room afterwards as "dead". Being knocked out of the Champions League after such a brave fightback must be devastating for them. However, all the media praised their heroics the following morning. Nobody was worried about the downfall of English football and the changing landscape of European football any longer (at least not until both Manchester clubs get knocked out of the Europa League) as Arsenal demonstrated that an English club still have qualities to beat the current Serie A leaders comprehensively if they play to their full capacity.

Although the exit from the Champions League may have been heartbreaking, at least the players can take heart from their performance and the 3-0 defeat of Europe's elite club. Hopefully, after 6 days' rest and with players to come back from injury (Arteta, Ramsey and hopefully Benayoun as well), they will be raring to continue their fight for a top-four finish.

A major talking point at the moment is the signing of Podolski. He has been linked to Arsenal for some time, but this time it looks very promising. The experienced Germany international will be a great addition to the squad. He can play up front with RVP just behind him, which will give a whole new dimension to Arsenal's game. Most of all, his signing will send out the right message that Arsenal have a serious ambition to compete for the title next season to the inside and outside of the Club, including RVP.

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