Arsenal travel to Milan for a football match tonight and recent months suggest this is not a very good idea. It’s a bit like The Jam reforming. On paper, it’s a great idea with all the old hits from a spokesman for his generation. In reality, the spokesman and his generation are now in their 50s and 60s so we know the lyrics to When You’re Young were right; we learned that lesson painfully.
Arsenal are the same. On paper, it’s a good idea but the reality is quite different. For starters, we don’t have a recognised centre-forward in the squad. Sure, you’d recognise Danny Welbeck on the street, but on the pitch, it’s a different matter. He’s not a goalscorer and frankly, the only one in tonight’s starting line-up will be Aaron Ramsey. We’re buggered, to be blunt.
This time, Milan won’t need the San Siro to resemble a ploughed field to beat us 4 – 0; they may only have to turn up. The players can talk about unity and “positive vibes” – got to be honest, they passed me by recently – but it’s in their actions and by their performances that we live.
How will they approach the tie? The usual mantras of European football don’t apply to us. We don’t know how to keep it tight at the back, even with a full strength back four, let alone one shorn of Nacho Monreal. And Hector Bellerin. He suffered knee-knack and went to hospital yesterday. Arsène stopped short of saying it would be three weeks, preferring the suitably vague “short-term” to describe Bellerin’s absence.
Calum Chambers is the obvious candidate but his lack of pace may see Ainsley Maitland-Niles slot in at right-back. Did he play there at Southampton there last season? I forget; the pain numbs the memory.
Say It Ain’t So
Tonight we enter the lion’s den with Gennaro Gattuso desperate to stop complacency setting in among his troops. That might be our best weapon. It might be our only weapon if Sunday’s performance is the benchmark.
Wenger waffled on in the media about strength, triumph through adversity, etc. The assembled hacks expected him to cite Kipling’s If and were poised, pens at the ready. Instead, he treated them to a gentle rendition of Telly Savalas’ 1975 Number One by the same name. Imagine the shock of those present when they heard that. You can multiply that ten-fold by the shock we’ll feel if we come back to the Emirates with a good result.
Milan haven’t conceded in six games, we have Danny Welbeck up front. The odds are not in our favour. The Frenchman isn’t having that though nor did he proffer it as an excuse beforehand; he’s saving it for afterwards.
The line-up won’t see that many changes from Sunday; we don’t have the options. Ospina in goal, Ramsey in for Jack with Iwobi somehow keeping his place, Mkhitaryan on the left. Mesut Özil will be there but you won’t be able to see him as he’s unwrapped the bandages from around his head so the folly of his scientific experiments is there for all to see.
Which leaves the line-up:
Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Ramsey; Iwobi, Özil, Mkhitaryan; Welbeck
Ramsey could play on the right with Jack/Elneny in the middle but it seems unlikely.
I’m dreading this game with no obvious positives to draw upon. No disrespect to Milan but I expect this ‘fear’ against the European elite. Milan are 7th in Serie A and our ‘peers’. At the moment, they appear to be our betters.
The Fat Lady is Gargling
It’s the kind of odds I expected us to upset a few years back but the successive Champions League pummellings have worn me down. We’ve reached the Round of Sixteen so the lights above the exit door shine brightly. Wenger observed that winning the Europa League is now the be-all and end-all of the season.
It’s a frank admission on his part, of how far our fall from grace is. He waffled about last year when we won the FA Cup but missed out on the Champions League by one point. His reminisces formed a sepia dream before reality jarred him back to a present where we’re out of the cup and nowhere near the Champions League places. Somehow we’ve accumulated enough points to avoid a descent into mid-table mediocrity even though our current form suggests that’s where we’re headed.
So, this is where against all odds, we win tonight. Nick a goal before relying on luck and several gods. Not so much “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war”, more seeing the dogs of war slip, creating havoc among our back four.
Can we win? It would, in the context of this season, be one of our most famous European victories. I don’t expect it and it tells you where we are right now. None of that matters for 90 minutes, does it? So long as we turn up.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.