Dreams and Delusions: Manchester City and Milan

Well, it’s a time for looking forward, even if it is with some trepidation. Tomorrow is the first (only) final of the season for us and we face Manchester City.

Arsène declared Mesut Özil fit with a proviso that he may pull another sickie. Somehow I doubt he will but you can never be sure with the current flakey generation. Alex Iwobi, whom I expect to be on the bench, is a doubt while Wenger has to “make a decision” today on Aaron Ramsey. He’ll want him playing and not just because he’s unbeaten in his eight previous visits to Wembley.

More on the Carabao Cup final tomorrow in the “It’s the League Cup final and bugger me! We’re in it!” post. There’s something peculiar about the League Cup and Arsenal; we’ve never warmed to it properly. Not even when it was first dreamt up by Alan Hardaker’s megalomania. We didn’t want to know, didn’t enter it until the late-60s and after an initial spell of making ourselves at home – losing the finals, natch – we became wholly indifferent to it until 1987.

Anyway, that’s all for tomorrow. I won’t make any promises since that indicates some planning goes into this blog and you know it doesn’t.

The downside is that I have to confront Thursday night’s shambolic performance and I really don’t want to. I fully confess that I was thankful Isaac wrote the piece yesterday; mine would have just been 750 words along the lines of just sack him and let us all move on with our lives.

My mood hasn’t lightened much in that respect this morning, but at least we know our opponents for the next round: AC Milan. One of European football’s great names and a club as far down in the doldrums as we are.

My Name Is Massimiliano and I’m Headcase

As delusional as well, if the quotes attributed to Massimiliano Mirabelli, their Ivan equivalent. To be honest, it’s the sort of thing I could imagine Ivan saying had he been there to ask.

“I’m sorry for Arsenal, who I’m sure would have liked to have continued in Europe. It would have been a nice final, but I’m happy. It’s best to face a big club like Arsenal now. We needed opponents like these.”

AC Milan sit seventh in Serie A.

The Rossoneri General Manager Christian Abbiati played in the 2012 tie; another European club not ready to ditch its’ past in the senior management team. While Arsenal are left with Bufton-Tufton and Dismayed of Tunbridge Wells as directors, others refuse to lose football experience.

It doesn’t automatically mean the club becomes successful; that’s still down to the manager and players. It does mean we avoid the directors staying quiet because they don’t have a clue or patently stupid statements about Wenger being the only manager in town.

Abbiati remembers the horror shows both sides suffered in the away legs. Us on a ploughed field at the San Siro, them on the Emirates green baize. Was it RVP who missed a gilt-edged second-half chance to level the tie? For 45 minutes, we dreamt of one of European football’s most glorious of comebacks. Just as Östersunds were; just as Östersunds, we fell short, architects of their own downfall.

It was a draw which could have been worse, but also a lot easier. We’d still contrive to make the latter look at lot harder than it is because that’s the ‘Arsenal Way’.

The shame is that we will go into the first leg at least with Alexandre Lacazette missing with the striker probably out for the second leg even though he’s recovering ahead of schedule.

I’m a Wide Striker But My Boss Won’t Admit It

I’m going to draw a positive from Thursday night though. Wenger forsook the easy option when the inexperienced pairing of Chambers and Holding were reeling. He kept the experienced players on the bench and let them ride the rough storm. The problem with wholesale rotation is a lack of playing time. The pair hardly ever play in the same line-up together and we saw the shortcomings of their inexperience laid bare.

I can’t see them being used as a pair again in the competition; Milan will eat them alive as would every other team remaining. With Danny Welbeck leading the line, we need to revive the spirit of 1993-4: draw the away leg and follow it up with a 1 – 0 win at home. We aren’t going to score a sackful of goals with him leading the line; we saw his shortcomings as a central striker in Thursday’s horror show.

But he is all we have for the moment.

That, though, is for then; this is now. And Wembley beckons.

’til Tomorrow.

45 thoughts on “Dreams and Delusions: Manchester City and Milan

  1. 1. Danny Welbeck has made the false-striker role his own this season; our Europa League run may just merit an entry in the tomes of football theory..

    2. There’s the uncomfortable but real possibility of having to wear the cursed blue kit at the San Siro this year.
    But a blue kit with Ozil in the team hopefully.

  2. I think the ties with AC Milan are quite dicey. Particularly if Iwobi and Welbeck will be involved. I have no confidence in both players delivering a competent attacking display. I would recall Lucas Perez instead of Welbeck, if I were the gaffer and if the transfer window were still open.

    For me Lucas’s loan is more like Jack’s loan spell at Bournemouth. The style at Arsenal fits Perez, just like Jack has done a good job since he returned to Arsenal.

    Like Yogi said, the summary is Mr Arsene, pack your bags and go show your tactical prowess somewhere else.

  3. Gudday all
    Another aptly written posts.
    Wow wow and wow. Its AC MILAN next.
    Another European champion gone missing on the big stage for some years.
    I think the much unde-r rated europa league is becoming much more interesting.
    TWould have really been nice to have Aubameyang available, would have been a much more interesting tie.
    Welbeck is well, welbeck, and the name hardly commands any form of optimism. Every time he gets a goal scoring opportunity, something tells me he will miss, and funny enough he always misses.
    I just pray lacazette recovers atleast for the second leg. But whether he does or not, i just believe we will go through to the next round.

  4. lari03,

    I’m hoping there is some other permutation which means that we don’t play Iwobi and Welbeck together again. We might was well not have an attack if both of them are on the pitch at the same time. Given Iwobi’s poor form in particular, I’d be tempted to put Nelson on from the start. Maybe it’s throwing him in the deep end a bit, which I hate Wenger doing, but the alternative is more of that ineffective crap that we saw on Thursday night. Nelson might actually make more of a fist of looking like a player who knows what he is doing. Then we can swap Welbeck out for Eddie in the second half if he continues to be as woeful as we have seen in recent games.

  5. lari03,

    You have no confidence in both players delivering a competent attacking display. I have no confidence in either player delivering a competent attacking display.

  6. I would hope we would play Mikhi up front and move Welbeck wide at the expense of Iwobi but that might be deemed too damaging to Welbeck’s confidence. He is even less of a central striker than Walcott and, similarly, might enjoy a moderately successful career were he convinced of this.

  7. Woolwich Freddie,

    Is Mkhitaryan not cup tied? We need to play Aubameyang up front with Ozil and either Wilshire or Ramsey. The Terrible Twosome will be best confined to the bench, or better still to the comfort of a room in the Wembley Travel Lodge.

  8. Great post yogi

    The fact that we were able to beat Man City and Chelsea in the FA cup last season gives me a bit of hope that we can somehow get a result in the game tomorrow. We are either going to somehow come up it’s a miraculous defensive miracle and win 1-0 or may be 1-1 and win on penalty kicks but the other more likely possibility is that we get blown out. On paper we can match them with technical skill and creativity and passing ability but they have much more firepower then we do and if we try to play football with them we will get torched.

  9. I don’t follow Italian football and we are lucky that AC Milan is down and out. As you point out our firepower is even more limited then usual with Welbeck as our only realistic CF option. Hopefully we can keep a couple of clean sheets.

  10. If we try to aggressively attack Man City the instant we lose the ball they will counter attack us into oblivion. We have to concede ball possession and hope that somehow we can frustrate them and then find a way to nick a goal.

  11. Wavey from yesterday’s comment section.

    “That largely comes down to the coaching. Everton tried to press for about 5 minutes and I thought we might struggle, but then they seemed to give up and gave the midfield to us. When teams press us in midfield we really struggle and that has to be down to a lack of work being done on the training pitch to prepare for it”

    Where you and I disagree is you think there is some sort of tactical solution to beating a solid tram defensive who presses us. I don’t think there is a tactical solution. Football is a game that favors the defense and the best way they break down a team that is pressing you is to not some tactical masterstroke but you have to win the ball in dangerous areas and then move the ball forward at pace and attack before the defense has a chance to organize and set up its press.

    You correctly pointed out in that same comment that Arsene is the ultimate captain of the ship and he takes most of the blame. I am not However, I am 100% that he did not tell the team to move the ball quickly and aggressively against Crystal Palace and Everton but then stop executing and play with the handbrake on against Spurs and Swansea. I guarantee that Arsene is just as frustrated as we are when he watches us turn complacent and fall into tippy tappy mode against teams like Swansea. I wish I understood why that happens.

  12. Orson Kaert,

    Orson – I think it is Auba who is cup-tied in Europe. Unless you were referring to Wembley? Sorry, should have clarified that I was thinking ahead to Milan.

  13. Bill,

    If the team do not follow the manager’s instructions, i.e. “play with the handbrake on” when it should be off. Then it’s down to the manager to ensure that they do follow his instructions. If that means dropping half the team in order to make his point, then that’s what he should do.

    We have been hearing Wenger gripe about his teams being “nervous” “a leetle bit affected by a previous result” and other such inanities yet he has never done anything about it.

    It has become obvious that the manager has no influence, on how the team choose to play, whatsoever.

  14. It should be a relief that Milan is (also) not firing on all cylinders but, honestly, it is not our ability to beat them which I doubt but our ability to beat them over a two-legged tie. This team has shown they can miraculously remember how to press once it gets to the semis of a competition, giving them a decent chance. Its consistency, however, has been horrendous. It may come down to how in touch Milan are with their own history as masters of shutting down both legs of a game and taking a single opportunity to see them through. Of course, once upon a time, we were known for something similar but I don’t know if it is wise to try and evoke that past with these personnel.

  15. Orson Kaert,

    Yes, for the League Cup, that makes sense. Based on the data from our last visit to Wembley (sorry for bringing it up), I would be tempted to play deep and try to play Auba in behind. I would keep Ramsey fairly deep and allow him to do his patented “arriving late”. Ozil for me with something of a free role, requiring positional discipline from everyone else.

  16. Bill,

    I don’t believe there is a tactical solution and have never suggested otherwise. I believe that we are a team who are at more risk of succumbing to the high press than nearly any other team in the PL. It’s down to one simple issue, no one working on how to play as a team on the training field. It’s not tactics to ensure that the bloke you pass the ball to has a reasonable option to pass it on to, even if it’s back to the bloke who passed it to him in the first place. Who was it who first talked about playing football in triangles many years’ ago? That’s how simple it is really, pass and then move into a position that gives the player you passed it to the opportunity to pass it off again. The last thing you should expect to see your players to do is lay the ball off and then hare off up the pitch leaving the ball carrier being quickly closed down by the opposition. What’s worse, we have a habit of passing it all the way back to our CBs and then leaving them to deal with the hordes charging at them. It’s not tactics to make sure there are options for the ball carrier, it’s common sense. But if the bloke giving the instructions tells you it’s all about attacking, that’s what you do. If the odd player did it from time to time you could put it down as an aberration, but when the players change and the outcome is the same it must be by design. That isn’t about tactics and it’s never been a tactical issue, it’s been about ensuring that the team plays as a team and understands that they need to be supporting each other. If they are told to just go and play their game and, by the way, get up there and attack they will inevitably leave their deeper midfielder and defence exposed to the press.

  17. Bill,

    We actually played in exactly the same way against Palace and Everton. The difference was that they didn’t press. If the opponents give us space we are going carve them up because we have the players who can do it given the space. If you watch the first few minutes against Everton it looked fairly even and I thought it was one of those games that would go either way. There was a lot of space as neither team was pressing. Once we scored it lifted our confidence and completely sapped theirs so the dropped deeper, giving us even more space. Their defence was all over the place and rather than try to fashion a wall, they left massive gaps and we exploited them. Wenger himself has said that Arsenal play our game and that doesn’t really change no matter who we play. It’s how they come at us that causes us the problems and I am amazed that more teams don’t just try to push us back. Look at how many games we have played where we have nicked a point, or even three points when we have looked to be under pressure. We have the attacking players (apart from Welbeck and Iwobi) to get at teams when there is a bit of space, but we are our own worst enemies when it comes to the high press.

  18. Interesting to see how many people seem to be writing Milan off. After a poor start to their season they are actually unbeaten in 2018, have won their last four games, and in their last eleven games they have won eight, drawn three and lost none (having beaten both Inter and Lazio during that period).

    In other words their form is considerably better than ours.

  19. Beyond Lazio, they’ve beaten or drawn with teams in the bottom half of the table. Their record is almost identical to ours this season and in the next five games, they face the top three. If they win them, then I’ll view them as better than us.

    Other than that, their 10-match unbeaten run is the same as we’re capable of and have gone on in the past. Their form pre-Christmas was the same as ours and the current form is an exception rather than the rule!

  20. YW,

    Maybe, but you can only beat the teams that you’re playing and by contrast we’ve lost to Swansea and Bournemouth in that time. I’m of the opinion that winning breeds confidence, so let’s see if some tough games will dent that before we meet next month. One thing is for sure, play like we did on Thursday and we’ve had it.

  21. Liverpool 3 – 1 up against West Ham with 15 minutes to play. That will move them 12 points clear of Arsenal, although we will have a game in hand, they’re probably beyond our reach.

    So there goes another dream.

    Make that 4 – 1.

  22. Orson Kaert,

    Arsene’s dream, not mine. When finishing fourth is an ‘achievement’ we are in serious shit. Better to aim high and fall short than settle for mediocrity. Even mediocrity is beyond Arsene these days.

  23. Orson Kaert:

    If the team do not follow the manager’s instructions, i.e. “play with the handbrake on” when it should be off.Then it’s down to the manager to ensure that they do follow his instructions.If that means dropping half the team in order to make his point, then that’s what he should do.

    We have been hearing Wenger gripe about his teams being “nervous”“a leetle bit affected by a previous result” and other such inanities yet he has never done anything about it.

    It has become obvious that the manager has no influence, on how the team choose to play, whatsoever.

    Orson sorry I took so long to reply. I agree 100% with everything you say in that comment. However in reality you can’t realistically drop a player who you just gave an $18M/year contract even if he goes invisible for about 1/2 of our games.

    The biggest problem is that our manager has built a culture that accepts playing with the mythical handbrake about every other game and what the club really needs is a complete cultural makeover which will not happen as long as Arsene is the manager. Arsene rightfully gets the majority of the blame. However, all of that said, the players also need to take some responsibility for allowing the culture of complacency to infect them.

  24. Wavey @ 2:46

    Sorry I took so long to reply. I understand your idea but in theory the best way to beat a high press is quick one touch passing and then moving, you move the ball more quickly then the defensive pack can adjust. Everything we read suggests that quick one touch passing and movement are the cornerstones of Arsene’s whole philosophy of how to play football and the players spend most of the time in training working on just that. We should really be spending more time working on defense. The idea that we don’t work on breaking down high presses on the training ground goes against almost everything we have read and heard about the way arsene manages.

  25. Orson Kaert:

    Mourinho has just done exactly that with Pogba.

    May be that is one the reasons Mourinho has been more successful then Arsène. At this point in his career Arsène probably does not have the drive or energy to do try something different which is another reason why he needs to go.

  26. Orson Kaert:
    Liverpool 3 – 1 up against West Ham with 15 minutes to play.That will move them 12 points clear of Arsenal, although we will have a game in hand, they’re probably beyond our reach.

    So there goes another dream.

    Make that 4 – 1.


    Liverpool is a good example of something we debate all the time. They don’t have a single creative player on their roster who on paper is even close to Ozil or Mkhitaryan or Wilshere and yet they are a much more effective attacking team. To me the reason they are so much better at scoring despite the lack of creative players is because whenever they regain ball possession they attack quickly and get the ball into the attacking zone before the defense can set a high press or organize themselves in the penalty box.

  27. If you player can get the ball in a dangerous position while the defense is disorganized then he will usually have more space and the time to look up and see where the GK is and pick a spot to shoot for. That little bit of extra time probably makes finishing exponentially easier

  28. If the ball is already behind the most forward defenders and is headed towards their goal at pace then there is no way to set up a high press. The only thing those defenders who would have been high pressing can do is run at full speed back towards their own goal to try and catch up with the ball. No one can defend well when his only thought is running back towards his goal to try and get back into position.

  29. Right, tomorrow’s post is written and scheduled. On site at 7am, just for all of you who are too excited to sleep at the thought of tomorrow’s final.

  30. Bill,

    Not an idea, common sense and what teams usually (especially good teams) try to do. Just makes no sense to isolate players when your opponents are pressing, but it’s what we appear to do as a matter of course.

    Not sure what you have heard about the training ground, but most of the stories flying around are about there being very little actual coaching at all. It’s all about fitness training and practice matches, but no actual instruction on what to do. Wenger wants slick passing, but expects his players to have that as part of their game. The only instruction he appears to give them is that they don’t shoot from distance.

  31. Wavey

    Perhaps you are right. The thing I have heard about the training ground is that most of the time is spent working on attacking and passing drills and how to impose our game on the opposition. The rumors suggest that very little time is spent on defensive organization or trying to counterattack the other teams strengths. I guess the theory is if we impose our will on the opposition then it does not matter what they try to do.. The apparent lack of interest in defense is always the thing which frustrated me the most.

  32. Wavey

    It seems logical to me to think that the best way to beat a high press is to move the ball forward fast enough that the defensive team does not have time for the their forward defenders to get into a position where they can pressure your CB and deep central midfielders. That sounds rather simplistic but it seems like that is exactly what teams like Liverpool or Man City or last years Chelsea or Leicester the season before did to counteract the other teams defensive pressure. Leicester’s whole strategy was to fire the ball forward to Vardy and Mahrez ASAP and let them take on the defense before the opposition had a chance to set up. They scored a lot of their goals that way and because the defense was scrambling to get back into position they won a lot of penalties. Admittedly Leicester is an extreme example and I am not advocating building our strategy around firing long balls but the idea of getting the ball into the attacking zone as quickly as possible certainly worked well for the Foxes that season.

  33. Leicester and last years Chelsea team and this years Liverpool demonstrate that you can be a very successful team without having a world class #10 in your line up. There is nothing wrong with having a purely creative player in your central midfield but our strategy of cramming the line up full of them is clearly overkill and it ruins the balance of the team. IMO. It does not leave enough room for players who are goal scorers and if we believe what history has shown us about our team I think it also hurts our defense.

  34. But Bayern, Juve, Madrid, Barca, Manure, Citeh, other and a pleathora of other clubs have shown you can not only walk your league but also win the CL with World Class #10. Also, what has Liverpool won? Last time I checked we have at the very least won silverware with our world class #10.

    I would also say, before this year, Salah was exactly the same player as Mhkitaryan: a very talented creative winger who has the ability to score goals. The difference, Salah this year plays in a team that gets him one on one with thr GK quite a bit because of the way they play. Also, Firmino is and will always be a #10, the difference is Klopp has turnes him into a CF BUT in the Bundesliga, before his move to Liverpool….he was a #10 who always had double digit assists.

  35. C

    I am not saying that you should not have a world class #10. Having 1 in your central midfield is good. Pep uses 2 top quality creators in his central midfield and it works for him because he always starts 3 forwards who are goal scoring threats. What we are doing when we run out Wilshere and Ozil and Mkhitaryan at the same time and only have 1 goal scorer is clearly creative overkill and its hurts our team balance. IMO.

    Comparing the Salah we are watching this year to Mkhitaryan is a gigantic stretch. It just shows how much more effective a goal scorer is in their system compared to ours. With all of those quality creative players, why can’t we figure out a way to get our goal scorers more openings?

    Firmino is thriving at CF because he is scoring goals. Firmino, Salah and Mane are all thriving because Liverpool uses their fast attacking tempo to create goal scoring opportunities and when you attack at pace you create quality scoring chances without having a world class #10 running the team.

  36. C

    “ Salah this year plays in a team that gets him one on one with thr GK quite a bit because of the way they play”

    Having wonderful technical skill and making lots of lovely passes is nice but the reason you attack is to score goals. If their system is that much better then ours at creating high percentage goal scoring opportunities for their forwards then why in the world would anyone argue with me and try to support the system we are using now?

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