Wednesday, March 5, 2008

AC Milan 0 - Arsenal 2 (Fabregas 84', Adebayor 92')

Epic. Just epic.

Even a good few hours after the conclusion of the game at San Siro, I still can't shake the feeling that I may have witnessed the finest display of pure football in the annals of Arsenal football.

The fact that the Gunners' performance humbled (or humiliated?) the reigning European and World club champions rightly magnifies the accomplishment. Most satisfyingly though is that they won on their own terms, by playing their scintillating brand of football rooted in hard work and in relentless dedication to the task at hand. They outhought, outfought and outplayed in every aspect of the game the golden-standard bearers of Champions League football.

A staggering number of superlative individual performances - and a delight to run through the specifics...

Almunia - 8. A very assured presence in goal, particularly the unsettling first 15 minutes of the game. Such was his command of his surroundings, I never felt we would concede throughout the entire game.
Sagna - 7. Not afraid to surge forward in support of Eboue. Supremely confident against Pato and Ambrosini throughout the game, made both of them look pedestrian.
Gallas - 7. The captain was back - and he marshalled his defense with confidence and authority. Tima and time again, Inzaghi, Pato and Kaka were left embarrassingly deep offside behind our quick-paced defensive four.
Senderos - 7. One of his best games of late - powered by a most welcome surge of confidence.
Clichy - 8. His best display in the Champions League this season. His partnership with Diaby controlled with authority the gaping hole on the right side of Milan's midfield that Gattuso never looked able to cover.
Hleb - 9. Plain brilliant display from the Belarussian. His effort rate and mobility, along with the accuracy and unpredictability of his passing game, allowed him to function very effectively as Adebayor's launchpad.
Fabregas - 9. Everything he did, he did magnificently well (which in the end included scoring) His vision proved second to none - his direct passes cut straight through a Milan midfield who was clearly unable to cope. His frequent surges upfront were also a constant threat; his brilliant goal fully deserved.
Flamini - 8. Proved, yet again, that he doesn't just play his defensive midfield position superbly, he owns it. The confidence he showed throughout the entire game encouraged Fabregas to push forward and hold the ball an extra fraction of the second that many times meant the difference between a decent pass and a great pass - as most of his were on the day.
Diaby - 7. The most remarkable aspect of his game was his defensive discipline - his partnership with Clichy worked very well and suffocated any kind of threats originating from the right side. Oddo found the combination way too much for him.
Adebayor - 9. As close to a clear 10 as performances come, he was everything he can be when at his best - strong, elusive, precise, unselfish and dangerous at all times. His ball control was truly marvelous, and his movement kept the Milan defense off-balance the entire night. His movement created plenty of penetration channels that Hleb and Fabregas took full advantage of. The Togonator was simply superb.

As tempted as I am to move the focus to the challenges ahead in the Premiership, I won't - this was too sweet of a performance to not let its historic meaning linger on for a couple more days. So enjoy the feeling, my friends, and take comfort in the fact that come Friday morning, every one of the remaining Champions League contenders will hope they draw anybody but the mighty, mighty Arsenal...

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