Thursday, February 21, 2008

Arsenal 0 - AC Milan 0

Not over yet

First off, let's get one thing out of the way: we are definitely over our Old Trafford hangover. Over, done, way past it. Never happened.

...Now, to the Wednesday night affair...

As a fan of the beautiful game, rarely have I felt so satisfied with a performance that yielded such an unsatisfying result. Yet that was very much the case last night, when The Arsenal played a tactically sound and esthetically superlative game against the mighty Rossoneri di Milano. Unfortunately, it also happened to be one of the more woefully unproductive (wasteful?) displays in recent weeks, Adebayor's last-gasp opportunity the most glaring of the bunch. However, even though Milan have proven impenetrable defensively, our midfield and our defence made them look thoroughly impotent offensively.

As Champions League first leg results go, this one does not typically bode well for the returning leg - particularly against Milan. However, I must confess that I feel strangely optimistic about the return leg. The dynamics of the game at San Siro will be quite different - and we do not have a one goal advantage to defend with a conservative 4-5-1 formation. To go through, Milan must score - and so do we, but I think our speed and creativity on the break from Milan's sustained pressure could make the difference. If we score first, the rest could be history. I have a feeling Eduardo will contribute to this one - it's about time...

The ratings:

Lehmann - 7. Although barely tested, he made a couple of good saves and showed good composure throughout the game.
Sagna - 7. Brilliant defensively, he rendered Pato irrelevant for the entire duration of the game.
Gallas - 7. Was able to put the Old Trafford nightmare behind him and conduct his defensive four with calm and composure.
Toure (Senderos - 8) Has proven once again that he is by no means a liability in Toure's absence. Good thing, since Kolo is out for at least four weeks.
Clichy - 7. A little more reserved offensively, as good as it gets defensively.
Hleb - 9. No matter where he showed up, he created havoc with his superb ball control, movement and vision. His truly outstanding effort should have been rewarded with at least two assists.
Fabregas - 9. Fully aware of the occasion's magnitude, he rose to the challenge and put in a truly brilliant performance - just like Hleb, he fully deserved a couple of assists. He commanded the midfield with energy, authority and a sense of joyful unpredictability. His repeated passes to Adebayor were superbly weighted and crafted - he almost converted one of them early in the second half.
Flamini - 8. Matched Gattuso step for step, tackle for tackle - their duel may be the key of the second leg game.
Eboue - 8. (Walcott) As always, a mixed bag - greater threat than usual going forward and penetrating through the middle, lacked critical composure when presented with a fine chance by Hleb's perfect pass. Unnecessary diving in the box - his immature behavior on the pitch is becoming quite annoying, you can only invoke the "desire to win" so many times...
Adebayor - 8. A very labor-intensive performance against the most consistent central defensive duo of the last few years - Maldini and Nesta. Pity he could not reap the ultimate reward for proving himself a highly potent threat throughout the game. Well, there's always the return leg...
Eduardo - 7. (Bendtner) A better performance from our "fox in the box" - very mobile, always in motion, trying to draw as much attention as possible in order to create space for Adebayor. There may not be much personal chemistry between the two, but I like their on-the-field movement. The San Siro game may be his chance to shine and send us through.

Next up - Birmingham City. A critical game on many levels, most importantly for building up an 8-point lead at the top (however temporary) And don't rule out a surprise at St. James Park - I know I don't!

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