We had a bad day, AC Milan beat us 4-0; we had a good day, we beat AC Milan 3-0. This more or less sums up this Arsenal team at the moment.
In my preview I suspected that last night would be anything but the non-game that was expected. The cushion from the first leg meant Milan were in a daze in the first half at the Emirates. Once they found themselves 3-0 down they sorted themselves out.
Unfortunately the team tired and could not maintain that momentum for the second half. Much of this was down to the loss of a player fast becoming a key member of the team: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Along with Tomas Rosicky, he ran the show, setting up the first goal and winning the penalty for the third. When he had to go off due to injury, our game slowed down.
Chamberlain’s performance against top European opposition is a big boost. Playing a more central role, he showed himself to be a versatile attacker, able to drive forward and spread passes around. I for one can’t wait to see him combine with Jack Wilshere.
Rosicky’s resurgence is well-timed as well. With Fabregas gone and Wilshere, Arteta and Ramsey injured, the Czech has played a key role in recent games and has even found a goalscoring touch!
One player I must reserve some criticism for, however, is Gervinho. He was invisible on the night, somehow failing to get in tune with the rest of our attack, which was very good. It’s worth pointing out that he has had to do a stupid amount of travelling to play for the Ivory Coast recently, but I think back to the African Nations Cup final and I worry; for those who haven’t seen it, he was very late in line to take a penalty in the shoot-out defeat to Zambia. He missed his spot-kick when he eventually had to take it, and this sign of cowering away in a big game is not something I like to see from an Arsenal player. That 18-year-old Chamberlain can come from playing League One football last year and relish an occasion such as this while Gervinho can’t, is worrying.
All in all, the team is playing well and continued a run of good performances. Of course, to go through in the Champions League you have to perform in both legs, but in isolation a 3-0 win over AC Milan is very promising. I hope very much that the players can take confidence from tonight. They gave the fans something to cheer about, which is about all you can ask for in such a difficult situation.
Still, contrast this game with the first leg and it looks like a completely different team showed up at the San Siro. This team can still rear its ugly head now and then and could come back at any time. It’s becoming a bit of a mystery to me, to be honest.
We are often slammed for being weak mentally, and there are games to back this up – 4-4 from 4-0 up against Newcastle and most matches after the Carling Cup final last season, taking us from what seemed a secure top two finish to 4th place.
And yet, somehow, a lot of matches that have shown tremendous mental strength from the players – 3-2 over Aston Villa from 2-0 down, 5-2 over Spurs from 2-0 down and a hard-fought win over Liverpool at the weekend. And then of course, the mighty effort to narrowly miss out on doing the impossible against Milan yesterday.
This team and its bipolarity is truly baffling, but hopefully we are coming into form at the right time. As the season draws to a close we look in better shape than Chelsea to finish 4th, and possibly good enough to topple Spurs for 3rd.
Football, as ever, has shown itself to be a funny game. I’m just proud of my team and the determination they showed straight from the kickoff. I’m also proud of the fans at the Emirates, who created a rocking atmosphere throughout. Everyone goes on about Liverpool and United fans being the best, but it would be hard to find a crowd as good as the one last night.