We go to the San Siro with a 0-0 draw. On the face of it, that is a good result, a clean sheet at home and any away goal puts us in a strong position. That’s the realistic view but any fan that watched that game must be disappointed. The atmosphere was amazing on the first big European night at the Emirates.
We dominated the game and out played Milan. The work rate was fantastic all night as every player played his heart out. Kaka, Pirlo and Seedorf were shackled by Fabregas and Flamini who were brilliant throughout. Clichy and Sagna provided width over and over and Hleb linked everything together.
It was the perfect response to Saturday; we just could not score tonight. Like Liverpool did last night we closed them down at every opportunity and they had no time to settle. We went into every challenge determined to win the ball and most of the time we did exactly that. The fight and commitment was certainly there tonight.
The game could have been so different though after only 5 minutes. With Toure off the pitch we lost concentration and I could see Maldini run across our penalty box to meet the early corner. Once more Lehmann showed why Wenger kept him on, he still is a good goalkeeper. His save was top quality and it took me back to our run to the final 2 years ago. To then catch the cross and release the mightiest of throws was awesome, it was the Jens Lehmann show once again; Pato certainly knew he was there as Lehmann approached with his usual anger. He must improve his kicking though, it was awful.
Toure’s injury was a wierd one and no one at the Emirates was sure what happened but he has a calf injury. From personal experience I know they can be really annoying if such an injury persists but he shouldn’t be out for too long. Right now though, I wouldn’t want anyone ahead of Senderos at the back.
Tonight, Phil was a rock. Many – including me – were worried his lack of pace might be exposed by Pato and Kaka but he has clearly been improving his game as he read the game so well to make up for it. Tony Adams was not fast but he was always one step ahead, Senderos was the same tonight. He made countless challenges when Milan moved into dangerous positions, one in particular was brilliant as Kaka moved in on goal.
Gallas called for fight and passion and tonight he certainly played his part. Along with Senderos he kept Pato so quiet and I just hope he can produce the same in the San Siro. Senderos and Gallas have struck up a great partnership and have conceded very few goals. They will be key in the San Siro, as will Sagna and Clichy.
Special praise for Sagna who has just lost his brother. To come back so quickly and play the way he did, what a soldier! For footballers, playing this game is their lives and such a game is probably the way Sagna wanted to remember his brother and for that I salute you Baka!
Clichy just continued the way he has performed all season and was solid at the back when put under pressure but got forward all the time and put in some dangerous crosses; there was just no one on the end of it. The pace he has really helps on the cover when someone does run over the top. He has boundless energy and has been one of our best, and most importantly, most consistent players this season.
Eboue proved once again why he is the most frustrating player in our squad. He started well as Sagna and Eboue doubled up on Maldini and he made some good in roads from the right side. However, after 10 minutes he went missing again. In the second half he had our best chance of the game up until that point and emphasised why is goal tally this season is at the mighty number of zero.
Theo should have been on the pitch much much earlier. Giving him six minutes was a mistake with Eboue playing so badly. Granted Eboue could have had a penalty but once that went against him it was time to inject some fresh pace. Within 3 minutes he had created our best chance all night, simply because he was positive and went at his man. Eboue constantly slows the play down but Milan’s ageing defence did not want someone running at them.
Eduardo played on the left but I am still not sure if 4-5-1 is the best way. Away at the San Siro maybe it will be best but at home we should have gone with two up top. Eduardo did play well out there though and showed some good moments and brilliant work rate. He is a massive threat up front and we did take that away. The logic was that having Hleb as the extra man to link midfield to attack would be the way to open Milan up. This did not happen though I felt. Hleb was caught too far back and Ade became isolated.
In the middle Flamini had Kaka in his pocket all night. Kaka found space like always but Flamini stuck to him like a bad smell. One moment summed up his season as we saw a battle of the titans between Gattuso and Flamini. Both went in hard and although neither really came out on top, it was brilliant to see. Flamini has made a massive difference to our side this season and if he can produce the same in Milan it could be key.
Alongside Fabregas finally showed his best football. He has been out of sorts but the big stage brought the best out of him. His passing was spot on, his skill and taclking were all spot on. His link up play with Hleb is wonderful to watch but when it got him through on ball his shooting let him down. Twice he did not test the keeper as much as he should have; symptomatic of Arsenal this evening.
When I mentioned the 4-5-1, I pointed out that Ade got a bit isolated tonight but he did not help himself. In my eyes his performance was poor. His hold up play was not what it normally is and his shooting boots were left at home. How he did not score at the end, I still do not know. Missing such an importance chance is pretty unforgivable in my opinion. Hopefully he makes up for it in the San Siro and breaks his European duck then.
I know we should have won the game but before the game many would take a 0-0 draw. One goal in the San Siro puts us thoroughly in the driving seat with the away goals rule and we know now we can play Kaka out of the game. Milan will be a bigger threat at home but in a way this might help us as they come out of their shells a bit more. The counter attack is still a huge weapon for this Arsenal side. By then we might have the likes of Rosicky and Van Persie back and that could help us hugely.
Either way we need to put this behind us but still take heart from it. The League is up now and the return leg is in two weeks. Once Brum and Villa are out of the way then we can look at the 2nd leg. More of the same will do from now until then.