Many readers of this sports page will be aware that The Local “unofficially” adopted the fortunes of Ostersunds FK in the Europa League; unfortunately that fairy tale run came to an end against Arsenal. Following the usual protocol your humble correspondent will now highlight the “Gunners” during the same competition. Arsenal has a formidable obstacle in their progress. Next Thursday, 8 March sees Arsene Wenger’s team travel to Milan in the round of 16. After dominating their respective domestic leagues at various times in recent years, both teams have dropped off and find themselves in similar positions. Currently, AC Milan sits seventh in Serie A, with Arsenal sitting sixth in the Premier League. The fall of both clubs has sparked quite the romantic view of the upcoming fixture between the former giants. Statistically speaking not much separates these two teams. They have only played each other 6 times with 2 wins each and 2 draws. It doesn’t get more balanced than that.
Both clubs show signs of the beautiful philosophy which got them to the stature they sit on now, however they’ve gained quite a lot of flaws over time. We should take a look at the home side first. Milan prefers to take a slow, methodical and careful approach to their game typified by their manager, Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso, a 73 cap veteran of the Italian side was a noted defensive midfielder. He only scored one goal for his country, however, his energy, aggression, and hard-tackling style of play enabled him to make a name for himself in international football. Italian teams have always been renowned for their defensive prowess, and Milan is no stranger to this stereotype. You will often see Gattuso’s side playing the ball out from the back in orderly fashion. So what of the current team?
The summer acquisition of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus only strengthens this trait, as well as filling some of the defensive frailties Milan had before his arrival. That said, Milan isn’t quite as defensively organized as their Italian counterparts, conceding 30 goals this season. At the time of writing Patrick Cutrone is Milan’s leading goal scorer with 14 in all competitions. We are sure to be in for a passionate first game.
Before the Arsenal clash AC Milan have a monumental game. Sunday, 4 March, they meet Inter Milan in a blockbusting Milanese derby. That game live in The Local at 1:45pm. Arsenal fans in the pub for the early Brighton game may wish to “hang” around a watch their Europa opposition.
Arsenal can relate to AC Milan in one aspect as their defensive frailties have been a large reason they haven’t pushed on in recent seasons. Particularly in their recent Carabao Cup final with Manchester City, all three goals they conceded came from a lack of structure in their defense. Four days after the cup final defeat Arsenal lost to the the same opposition by the same score in the league and a subsequent defeat to Brighton, 2-1, last Sunday lead to calls for Wenger to move out. The club’s beleagured long serving manger continues survive, however, the pressure is growing all the time. Since the end of last season 22 players have departed to the club with only 5 signings in. It could be argued that the quality of the players transferred out have left a gap as of yet to be filled. Players of the caliber of Giroud, Walcott and Sanchez have not been replaced and the decline is there for all to see.
Arsene Wenger has been switching between a block of three defenders, and a block of four. When adopting a back three, Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal, who will miss the AC Milan game with injury and an early contender for their player of the season, will drop into to help the two centre backs. Monreal’s absence will be noticeable for the Gunners.
Arsenal is offensively versatile, but in this fixture, their best option would be to press high. If the “Gunners” keep pressure on Milan’s defense and get a vital away goal then the return fixture could be interesting. Much will rest with the midfield; if Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, and Jack Wilshire can control their areas then Arsenal have a chance. In a Premier League fixture with Tottenham Hotspur earlier on in the season, Arsenal’s front three were forced to be rampant in their press, the midfield worked hard and Tottenham’s usually organized defense crumbled, and conceded two goals. The Local will be showing the game live at 12:00 noon.