AC Milan v. Arsenal: high voltage

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.



  1. “Arsenal also have tremendous counter attacking talent in this team.”

    Would that be Ozil, Mkhi and Welbeck’s rotator cuff?

  2. Of course Welbeck will start. Who else is there? Nketiah?

    Gattuso was a thug, but most teams need one. Actually, every team needs one. I wish we had one.

    1. I remember that confrontation with Joe Jordan and loving it, I think…though my memory has deserted me…because Jordan had done or said something nasty about Arsenal not long before?

  3. Here’s a long shot thought, Brother Bun.

    Italian football is patient and tactical, and is not really about the kind of pressing that unhinges this Arsenal team. Our technical players may get more time on the ball in possession than they’re usually allowed. If they let us play, look for Ozil, Xhaka and Miki to have good games.

    Their counter, though, is another story altogether. They’re favoured to win, but heart is telling me narrow win ( 2-1), or draw.

    Famous last words warning… I don’t think they’ll embarrass us.

    Hopelessly romantic gooner.

    1. Also Mustafi almost went to Italy in the summer. His professional pride almost demands that he shows the Italian public that he’s a good central defender.

    2. I like the optimism. But you forget that Milan are a pressing team under Gattuso. At least, this is the impression I’ve been given by others, and there was a youtube video doing the rounds the other day showing us how they do it. They play with a ton of energy, close down players, etc., exactly the sort of opponent we can’t handle at the moment.

      Can’t see anything other than a loss today, but hey, you never know!

    3. We can’t let Kessie, Bonaventura and Suso play. Any time I’ve seen Milan play well one or more of those three is the driving force.

      Fingers crossed lads.

      1. Kaius, I was typing a comment yesterday to reply to you referencing the banter era and recounting the now enshrined Arsenal failures of the latter 00’s and I thought, remembering those games vividly, that each of them really was decided by a split second of luck going the wrong way on top of much more ordinary failures and/or referee decisions that set it up to go that way. Bendtner through on goal vs. Barcelona with the score 4-3 on aggregate is iconic because he miscontrols it and Mascherano is there in a split second to dispossess him cleanly (and would later credit that moment for turning his Barca career around), but that moment was set up by two weak referee decisions, one to send off van Persie (or it wouldn’t have been Bendtner receiving that pass) and the decision to give a penalty to Barcelona. Despite all that, Arsenal still almost snatched it and at the risk of sounding pleased with participation trophies, I think that’s pretty damn good considering the level of talent and investment on either side (Messi/Xavi/Villa/Guardiola in their pomp).

        The Newcastle game is an even better story. First of all, we led 4-0 in that game with three goals inside 10 minutes. To get back to a TIE (not a win), the following had to happen: 1) Diaby sent off because Barton wound him up by going for his surgically repaired ankle in an ostensible 50/50 2) Not one but two penalties against Arsenal. Watch them again. The second one especially was pure crap and I think the lino was compensating for ruling an earlier goal offside wrongly 3) Chieck Tiote (RIP) scored a left foot full volley from 30 yards which was his only goal in 6 PL seasons. All that, and the game still lives on as Arsenal’s shame, a game they didn’t even lose.

        Arsenal did plenty to sabotage themselves in both games to set up potential for disappointment. The infamous Cesc back heel to Messi happened in that same game and led to their opener, while at Newcastle, Squillaci and Djourou (who scored earlier) contrived between them to let Leon Best score not once but twice (though one was ruled out for offside). So I’m not saying none of it was on Arsenal but by the same token I do think a lot happened in both games that they couldn’t control and it’s sad that those memories define those Arsenal teams now for so many fans.

        When I think back to those teams, I remember the unexpected 2-0 win at the San Siro when Walcott ran them ragged, or the 2-1 at Emirates when new-boy Arshavin stunned Barcelona, or that time Nasri dribbled past the entire Porto defence to score, or one of several drubbings we handed out to Spurs, one for each of their false dawns, van Persie’s screamers that wouldn’t have been out of place in Nintendo World Cup, or Cesc bossing games before he turned 20, then Wilshere doing the same, Tomas Rosicky, Sagna winning every header, etc. There was a lot to admire and love about those teams and I think that deserves to be said.

  4. Could someone remind the guys that maybe they are playing for the shirt too? Not just for their manager? Sheesh..

    I can’t be negative. Up the arse carajo digo!!

    1. You need to hose me off the ceiling, bredda 😀

      Game of two halves, though, game of two halves.

  5. Arsenal are playing too well to collapse now.
    Ramsey interception for the first was key I thought.
    It’s a different game playing one up away.

    1. We can, and we have before. I takes one silly mistake, and we have it in us. From the standpoint of the overall tie, though, we’re in an excellent place. More, please, and no switching off. Big 45 minutes ahead of us.

      Best thing about the 2nd goal (apart from the assist and finish which were both good) was the timing of the run. Perfect. Defenders appealing in vain for an offside that never was.

  6. HT thoughts:

    Wow. We really should be up by more. Where is the real Arsenal team?

    From their end of things, Milan will be disappointed (so far) not to have punished us for some slack possession (especially by Wilshere, who just seems to get knocked off the ball so, so easily), and some really awful decisions by Ospina. I still think we’ll concede at least one goal here, but two away goals sets up the next game nicely for us.

    Now…Danny Welbeck. For most of the half I thought he hurt the team, truly dreadful…but he did improve near the end. Let’s hope it’s an upward trajectory that continues into the second half.

    1. We should be up more.
      Milan playing right into our hands though.
      Arsenal have too much talent to let them have all this time and space on the ball.

  7. When that first goal went in I almost swallowed my inhaler. Completely in control and Gattuso is in shock.

  8. This is so Arsenal though.
    Kola signals for injury and a sub, and Arsenal bench totaly fail to react.
    Two minutes later AMN is forced to come on with zero warm up.

  9. That Welbeck miskick at the end…I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player so prone to the comical.


    When is Lacazette coming back?

    1. Welbeck is the most unintentionally entertaining striker in the history of football.

    2. I know right.. Bless him.

      He played well today though. He’s never going to be a great goal threat but he’s a willing runner and keeps the defenders occupied. Should have had an assist too.

  10. Phew.

    Well controlled 2nd half. First part of the job well done.

    Can someone please explain, in 5 sentences, what the hell this Arsenal team is about?

    Brighton > Milan. Obviously.

    1. Confidence.. always desperate to catch up in the league, to the point where it gets overwhelming. But starting on level footing and in with a chance to get to the QF of a European competition they remember why they like the game.

      I watch more Serie A than even the EPL these days. I thought we’d beat Milan. Though we can implode at any moment. Need to finish the job in the second leg. Still not confident we can win the whole shebang, but one game at a time and all that.

  11. 5 sentences then, ok.
    Arsenal have too much talent for any less talented team (AC Milan in this case) to afford them space and time on the ball.

    Either press them high , or defend deep and try to hit them on counters.
    Milan did neither and have no speed up front to trouble Arsenal back line.

    I have not seen Milan play under Gatuso in the league but on the evidence of this game alone I’m not impressed by his tactical acumen.

  12. I was way off on my prediction for this one. Happy for the win, but very unimpressed with Milan. No firepower or speed. They played like they were running through molasses.

  13. I hope Kola and Chambers are both ok. We can ill afford to lose them now when both Monreal and Bellerin are also out injured.

  14. I need to see the full game to get a better feel, from reading those who watched it sounds like the performance was on point. From looking at the numbers, it’s concerning that Milan had 16 shots, and from looking at the highlights it looks like we got away with a lot. That’s how football is though, a bounce this way or that decides games, like Mikhi’s deflected goal off Bonucci’s knee that could’ve gone anywhere ended up in the net, while their strikers never found range. I’m glad we’re on the flip side of some good fortune this time. The Ozil/Ramsey goal was beautiful though.

    Claude, I don’t think Arsenal are necessarily Jekyll/Hyde, I think today was the same team as always, high risk style and always likely to concede goals but a bit more focused and determined and today the shots went in. Going up against Watford this weekend and I’d say although they are likely to win, no result would surprise me.

  15. We had our Arsenal back today. I hope we can keep them.
    Our of nowhere we played flashes of brilliant football for many minutes in a row! Who’d have thought? I’m not asking questions, just enjoying it until next week.

  16. I thought Mkhi and Ramsey had a good understanding today, as did Wilshere and Xhaka. As long as you’re not comparing them to City, then I thought Chambers also had a very good match. A few stumbles here and there, but rather solid, all in all. Once we were two to the good, it seemed that the team split between those who wanted to go for three, and those who wanted to protect the lead. I think that’s where we miss having a vocal captain who dictates the style of play.

    I also note that I seem to have a completely different view of the game than those on here who are more knowledgable about tactics and systems then I; that’s cool. It’s just how it seemed to me, as a layman. I’m sure there are plenty of things for others to pick apart.

  17. Never saw that happening but hey I will take it.
    AC Milan’s unbeaten run up till now shows that Serie A is really weak with the exception of Juventus (eh Sp*s)
    AC Milan players that I watch week in and week out and who drive this team (Suso, Bonaventura, Cutrone, Kessie, Bonucci) looked young and slow or old and slow against Arsenal. I was pleasantly surprised with how easily Arsenal were able to break AC Milan’s defensive pressure in their own half.
    The 64K question is where was this Arsenal and what caused them to show up now. The answer is AC Milan is not Nottingham Forrest or Brighton and hopefully the other teams remaining in this competition can be exposed when the real Arsenal decides to show up.

  18. Whatever else happens this season, we’ll have tonight’s win at the San Siro. Looks we were able to call up the ghost of 2008. It was the same scoreline that night.

    I haven’t seen Milan play today but they were poor. Their front line looked s .. l … o w. Have to say all our players were putting in the effort today but MOTM, for me, was Ramsey. His interception led to the first goal and his flick for the second set up the play which he pretty much walked into the net.

  19. Milan were disappointing in a couple of ways:
    1. They were clearly not there mentally. Lots of errors, and when they went behind they were clearly rattled. Donnarumma shouting at the ballboys for the ball, them getting all up in arms every time we took a little too long.
    2. They didn’t press us high up the pitch, which we have no answer for.

    Poor, overall.

  20. Is it just me or do more people here seem to be more disappointed about Milan’s perceived failings and their inability to deliver to Arsenal a sound thrashing than there are those who are delighted with a good Gunner performance?

    1. I am. It taints it a bit. I think we played well, but once we realized we didn’t have to play much better than we were we sort of stopped. I enjoyed the game and am glad we won, but expected more (from Milan).

      1. Yeah. I think the game had all the ingredients to be a classic old-school European game away from home against one of Italy’s great clubs. The San Siro man… never been, but even on tv that stadium’s atmosphere is wild.

        In the end Milan didn’t really come to the party but that’s none of our business tbh.

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