Arsene Wenger has never been a great tactician, but tonight his bizarre decision killed us from the start.
The boss was looking, as we all were, at the state of the San Siro pitch. The wings looked deliberately battered to give us a hard time in one of our stronger positions. We’ve played on some bad pitches before, but this was something different altogether. It was a clear and calculated move, with a very visible line on both sides of the pitch where whatever carnage was unleashed.
But Wenger’s response was just baffling. Utterly baffling. Obviously deciding the wings were out of bounds, he deployed a strange 4-4-2 with FOUR central midfielders! Song, Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky all started. Walcott seemed to be upfront with van Persie.
Most managers would think: Ok, the pitch looks a mess, but both teams have to play on it, so we’ll have to cope. Wenger thinks: I’ll take out our most in-form attacking midfielder and play a completely unworkable formation.
In the end, Milan’s passing was slick enough to destroy us; the pitch clearly not stopping them playing good football. Having good players helps of course, but so does having a manager who’s not totally lost the plot.
With our four-man central midfield we had no attack. For a side that’s as poor as we are in defence, to kill our only strong point was suicide. Van Persie is a great striker, but there’s not much he can do without a) players in wide positions to give him service and b) players to move off the ball, drag defenders away, and give him space. A thrashing was inevitable with this latest Wenger cock-up.
It would be tempting to look at this and say this is what we are now, that we’re not really a Champions League team anymore and the result simply reflected a gulf in class, but I don’t think you can know that when the formation was such a joke. Sure, we might have conceded 4 goals anyway, but with our normal 4-3-3 and Chamberlain on the pitch it might at least have been a 4-2 defeat, which would at least make the second leg worth playing.
I can’t quite get over it. One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.
We can point and laugh at the Manchester teams for not even making it to this stage, but that’s a fluke, a one-off. There’s no way they would’ve gone to Milan tonight and got mauled like that.
Still, even in the worst of times Arsenal fans can be pretty deluded. Some will no doubt say this tie is not over and that the pressure is off us in the second leg, so we might somehow win 5-0, or even 4-0 and win on penalties.
Forget that now, that’s not going to happen. If we have an extremely good day we might win 2 or 3-0, but we’d still be out. One good game and one disaster is not good enough in a two-legged tie.
You have to feel for Thierry Henry. He played in one of our best results in Europe, a 5-1 win against Inter in the same stadium, but this is a very different Arsenal side now. I hope he returns one day with the club in better shape than it is now.