View From The North Bank: AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0
After Saturday’s late winner at Sunderland an air of reserved optimism crept in amongst Arsenal fans. I think it’s safe to say last night’s hammering in Milan has banished any positivity we’d rebuilt.
Before the game, many of us felt that we would at least score. The more confident amongst us looked to Milan’s narrow formation and injury hit midfield as a suggestion that our pace going forward could stretch them to breaking point. This wasn’t a fantasy, there was good reason to suggest we could threaten Milan and come away with something to build on at home.
But, whilst you can predict formations and tactics all you like the one thing that can scupper all that is the application of the players on the night. Whilst Milan looked organised for a top level European game, Arsenal looked ponderous and jaded. The first 15 minutes felt like a testimonial. As the game went on we looked like we were wading through treacle whereas they made the best of the terrible playing surface.
It’s customary for Arsenal fans and assorted press commentators to reflect on an Arsenal defeat as the result of an unwillingness to act decisively in the transfer market or to stretch ourselves financially to keep any of the stars who’ve left us in recent seasons. Of course, better players would have, well, played better but that doesn’t account for the terrible performances by so many of the players we would usually rely on.
If we were given access to Usmanov’s enormous wealth I imagine most Gooner’s would still want to retain Vermaelen, Sagna, Song and Arteta. Last night, they were the experienced players who let us down.
The lazy post-match consensus that we weren’t good enough all along is wide of the mark also. The truth is that whilst we aren’t good enough to win the Champions League we’re still better than this performance would suggest.
Our defence was criminally exposed last night. Koscielny seemed to be battling on his own until he was predictably removed owing to injury. Vermaelen looked more like a left back playing in the middle than the accomplished central defender we know he is. The usually professional Sagna fell asleep for the second goal, even though it was shown to be offside.
Our midfield went absent without leave in the first half. Alex Song, usually hunting down opponents and making important tackles, was anonymous; Aaron Ramsey barely saw the ball and wasted it when he had it whilst Arteta was as poor in possession as I can ever remember seeing him.
Our plan going forward looked to be to get Walcott one on one with Antonini or for Rosicky to thread balls to Van Persie. The typically Italian organisation of the Milan side when they didn’t have the ball meant that we looked toothless going forward. The state of the flanks won’t have helped Walcott but that doesn’t excuse the number of times we wasted the ball in the final third.
Arsene Wenger can be blamed for many things but the failure of the senior players in the team to muster any sort of resistance is hardly his fault. We as fans feel let down by such inept performances so don’t think for a second that a man who has persevered through difficult times when so many others would have jumped shipped won’t feel hugely let down too.
We’ve played poorly many times this season and we’ve already lost far too many games but this was the first time since the death throes of the United drubbing where we’ve looked short of any fight whatsoever. Had we gone toe to toe with Milan and been beaten I’d be happy to put my hands up and admit they were just a better team than us. Maybe they are better than us but last night’s no-show doesn’t really give the best picture of what we can do when Vermaelen, Song, Arteta and co look hungry and demonstrate a will to win.
Knowing that we’re capable of better actually feels worse than just putting this down as a bad night at the office. It’s hard not to feel let down by the total failure to even put up a challenge last night.
The only thing that makes me feel slightly better is that we were never going to win this competition this season. The FA Cup is winnable and a place in the top four is achievable so I’d much rather progression on Sunday and improvement in the league than a win last night. Sadly the Footballing Gods don’t work like that, you can’t trade one humiliation for a couple of good results down the line. These players are going to have to show the desire that was woefully lacking last night to stop this season from ending the same as our Champions League campaign inevitably will.