Good morning my fellow Arsenal depressives, we have a match today. It’s a… (squints at web site) huh… 10 am match against AC Milan in Milan.
You are probably already well informed that AC Milan are managed by former midfield half-man-half-badger Gennaro Gattuso. It’s almost impossible to explain to modern football fans what kind of player Gattuso was. He was hard, he got into fights, he pushed people off the ball, he was also the purveyor of wild tackles, he once took a yellow card out of the hand of a referee and handed it back to him, he headbutted an opposition manager (Spurs Joe Jordan) after a heated physical match in the Champions League, and there is even footage of him recently slapping his own assistant manager on the touchline. But he wasn’t just a thug. He could play football as well and won two Champions League titles and a World Cup.
Gattuso was one of those players that people don’t want to play against but always want on their team. He was the heart of his team. Sometimes wild, racing, but always there. He’s still the same and his AC Milan side play with an almost Gattuso-like wildness. They are resolute in defense but there is just something strange about them, like they are always on a knife’s edge.
Here, this might help explain what I mean by this sort of controlled chaos of AC Milan. You may know that Milan haven’t conceded a goal in 6 matches. I looked at the data and they have controlled the little teams (Ludogorets, Sampdoria, and SPAL 2013) but against the big clubs (Lazio and Roma) they allowed 40 shots (combined). Meaning that they are getting a bit lucky. But they have also managed to control the opposition and in all of the last six matches have only conceded two big chances.
They love hitting out on the counter and create a lot of counter attacking opportunities for themselves. But what I can’t figure out is what style of play Gattuso is going to pick. Against Lazio, Gattuso’s Milan had 702 passes to Lazio’s 587 . But they also attempted 48 tackles (to 38) and had 30 blocks (to 18). Against Roma, Milan actually had more of the ball (they were the away team) before they scored in the 48th minute, making 255-236 passes against a very good Roma side.
If Gattuso has been watching tape of Arsenal’s matches this season, he will pressure Arsenal when they have the ball. That’s the one thing Arsenal can’t handle and Arsenal’s defense right now is the most error-prone in the top five League in Europe. Pressing Arsenal also fits into Milan’s more “emotional” style of play and could lead to a big result for them today.
They are vulnerable. Against Lazio and Roma they made two errors in each match. Arsenal also have tremendous counter attacking talent in this team. If Arsenal can pressure them in return, we could see a real firecracker of a match with lots of up and down action.
Arsenal aren’t allowed to field P-E Aubameyang (PEA) and Arsenal’s other star striker, Aaron Ramsey, has scored just the three goals (against Everton) since October – a run of 13 matches. Arsenal’s wide forward, Welbeast, has only scored 2 goals since September and none in his last 8.
I think goals for Arsenal are going to have to come from either late runs from midfielders or the defenders off set pieces. Though it would be a nice surprise for Welbeck to shoulder/shin/shimmy in a goal or two tonight as I think (in all seriousness) that he will start up top with Iwobi and Mkhitaryan on either side of him. Watch for Ozil and Ramsey to make those trademark late runs in the box which sometimes score goals but which will leave Arsenal open to counters with our dude Xhaka catching butterflies in midfield. Mkhitaryan will be tasked with finding those runs with crossed passes.
My mood in this match is.. “not expecting anything.” If Arsenal get a result, great, but this is shaping up to be a tricky test against a fired-up opponent. Worse, the match comes at a time when Arsenal are nursing wounds from a run of four consecutive losses and widespread reports of dressing room unrest and a player revolt against the manager. If they are given any chance, AC Milan will be happy to peel off those scabs.