As many of you know I have a bit of connection to Arsenal, former podcast co-host, one time blog fill in, college roommate and longtime friend, Chad, is a Gunner, and more often than not our footballing discussion centers on over hyped strikers, but we always circle back to our passions, AC Milan and Arsenal. With that said I want to share a little Q&A we had as we prepare for the match:
1. Strengths of both teams?
Arsenal: RvP. Let’s all face it; the guy has scored over half the team’s goals this season. He is the strength of this team at times taking the boys on his back and making something happen out of nothing. Without RvP this team would be sitting in the bottom half of the EPL.
Milan: Experience. Milan has experience all over the pitch, and while that may seem to some like calling players old, it is hardly that. Prince mentioned yesterday that he felt Arsenal lacked Experience and that was why they played well one game and terrible the next. I’d prefer he doesn’t say things like that to fire another team up before a big game. Milan has key experienced players all over the pitch and this is why, even when they don’t play well in a game or a half, they can still win games. Arsenal tends to be on the other side of the miracle comebacks by weaker teams, where as Milan hang in and steal the game. It is why players like Seedorf or Inzaghi can still have success; they understand what it takes to offset their deficiencies due to age. That comes with experience.
Arsenal: Pace. They have it everywhere and in spades. Milan can cope, but it only takes a poor pass and interception for a guy like Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlin to make you pay.
Milan: Experience. Everybody wants to live out their FM and FIFA fantasy and win the CL with a team of 25 year olds. Arsene Wenger has been trying to do it for the better part of 20 years to no avail, because it just doesn’t happen. Milan have guys in spots that have seen it all, and when the CL anthem plays one team’s knees will be knocking, hint hint, it won’t be Milan. It is not the end all, but it is nice to have it on your side.
2. Weaknesses of both teams?
Arsenal: Defense but specifically set pieces. Milan has a lot of weapons to use on set pieces as well so this could be an import part of the two legs. Arsenal for me doesn’t communicate well and it shows on the pitch. Their offside trap is usually out of sorts and they are playing CB’s out of position at RB and LB for long stretches this season.
Milan: This was a tough one for me as I haven’t been able to see the last couple of week’s games, but I am going to go with defense. The spot next to Silva and the LB spot have been soft spots for much of the season when I have watched and those are spots that Arsenal will attack through Walcott and RvP. Milan will need strong performances out of their defensive midfielders here to help with the Arsenal attack.
Arsenal: Everyone wants me to say defense, but I don’t think it is that bad. Is it susceptible? Yes, but what defense isn’t it? It is also easy to say something like, “They lack grit.” But for the first time in years I think this team has some. For me their weakness is wasted chances, and it always comes back to bite them. I recall a game against Wolverhampton, a 1-1 draw; they had 27 shots and 11 on frame, but couldn’t find the back of the net. It wreaked havoc with their psyche and at the end of the day cost them two valuable points.
Milan: Everyone wants me to say pace, but I don’t believe it. Experience helps you cope with pace, what Milan lack is depth in key places. Just look at the CDM spot, two players asked to share the load over the age of 30. Some want to blame management, that’s fine, but the fact of the matter is you can’t just buy to buy, you need cohesion, it has to be the right move and shame on Milan for not getting that sorted out sooner. Had Pato been sold, money could have spent, that wasn’t the case so how do we cope in the meantime? Muntari will help in the Serie A, but poor form out of Ambro and Van Bommel can prove costly.
3. Player to watch?
Walcott. He has been becoming more of a playmaker the last few weeks, using his pace to get wide and put pressure on LB’s. He will need to exploit Milan’s weakness at LB in order to help Arsenal generate quality chances. I like Abate to at least hold his own on the opposite side against either Oxlade-Chamberlin or possibly Gervinho if he is back and fit to go.
I had to take two, the first being Alex Song. I mean for a team like ours crying for a CDM, this guy is a dream. So effortless, so smart on the ball, and a tank on the tackle. A dream signing if management would get their head out of their ass, I mean Brazil, and look at the real talent being churned out in the rest of the World. My second is Zlatan, simply because we are all waiting for him to shine when the lights are brightest, can he? Will he? Don’t hold your breath…better to come in with low expectations.
4. Winning the midfield battle?
This is the game for me for Arsenal. Win the midfield battle and they will be sitting in Milan’s end for a long time with many chances. Lose the midfield battle, and Milan will have plenty of chances to put pressure on a suspect Arsenal defense (Mertersacker is out) and look for goal scoring opportunities. Arsenal will need Song and Arteta to protect the defense but also be able to provide support on the offensive side. IF, Wenger is bold enough to use Ox (Gervinho may be the best bet if available) on one side with Walcott on the other (he better be, because if I see Arshavin on the left, I may join the growing Wenger boo birds) this will be a tough game for Milan with all that speed on the wings and age in the midfield.
Hard to win the battle when you have a beast like Song in the opponent’s midfield. But it all depends on tactics. Does Arsenal attack, or do they sit? Some argue all they know how to do is attack, and that means if Milan can possess and they don’t track back it will be easy for us to establish a midfield presence. Having a healthy Prince back will go a long as well, as he can drop in and shoulder some of the defensive burden.
5. First leg: Attack or Defend?
Arsenal: Attack, Attack and Attack. This team simply is not built to defend despite quality at the CB position. Communication seems to be a big problem as well as defending of set pieces (attributed to communication issues???) which makes me nervous for Arsenal to be under siege for too long in this one. Their best strategy is and always seems to be, to attack and try to control play in their opponents end. This unfortunately leaves Arsenal wide open for counters something which Milan will want to exploit.
Milan: Not sure this will go over with the Blog fans here but Milan need to Defend and counter in this one. Why would I say this after I said Arsenals strength was attacking? You beat Arsenal by allowing them to have the ball but pressuring them immediately. Watch, they get frustrated and sloppy and tend to give the ball away too easily. Most of the teams in the EPL have used this method this year, outside of Chelsea who seems to like to go shot for s hot with Arsenal which is rarely a good strategy. Arsenal’s defenders lack communication skills and you can catch them out of position quite frequently.
Arsenal: Can they do anything but attack?
Milan: Injuries, fatigue, missing key personnel, and match at home; all key factors to consider when shaping a game plan. Can Milan sit back and counter? Depends on who plays, but if Milan presents a well-organized defensive stance Arsenal will struggle to break them down and struggle more to get back. For me the key to beating Arsenal is getting their defense out of shape and forcing them to chase the ball down, disorganizing and taking advantage of space. Milan has the guile to do this, they just need to find the quickness to make it work. Take advantage of some pacey bodies will still retaining balance should go a long way.
Hope you all enjoyed the Q&A preview, Chad will be traveling during the match and therefore unavailable for slander, but he will answer all calls in the order they arrived upon his return! There is also a VERY STRONG possibility for a live blog during the match tomorrow, check back at 2:45 EST and join the festivities.