Champions’ League: Arsenal 0 – Milan AC 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
February 21st, 2008 • 10:05 am

It was not a bad performance, but it was not a great performance either. It was strongly reminiscent of performances from the past couple of years, where the Gunners would create lots of chances and half-chances, but somehow fail to convert any of them.

The difference here, of course, was the nature of the opposition. Rather than some bottom-tier EPL team or lowly first-round Champions’ League opponent, this was Milan AC, the title holders, and masters of the art of defending and making the competition repulsive for anyone who likes enterprising, attacking football.

They have done it countless times before, most notably in the last couple of Champions’ League finals that they have won. They will do it again, and again. It’s in their blood. It is what makes them a top-class team, apparently. I don’t know. They’ll never be top-class in my book. They can win all the titles that they want, including the most sought-after, repeatedly, and they still won’t convince me that this is what makes football the beautiful game.

I mean, can anyone mention a single contribution to the game by Kaka last night? Sure, he’s a great player, but great playing is not what this team’s about. This team’s about grinding out results in the most boring fashion imaginable. It’s a triumph of cynicism over creativity. And, of course, most of the time, it works beautifully—so to speak.

It does not mean that the Italians are through. There is a return leg in Milan in a fortnight, and if the Gunners can reach the next level in their game, they have a chance. They certainly should be a bit freer mentally without the fear of conceding a goal at home. But they’ll need to be at their best, and they’ll need to up the tempo. The Gunners can afford to play at a lower tempo against lower-quality opposition, because it’s usually enough to win. But against a team like Milan AC, it is their youth, their enthusiasm, their energy that could and should make the difference.

There wasn’t enough of that last night. They were too cautious. In spite of what Arsène Wenger said before the game, they did play with the handbrake on. It wasn’t helped, of course, by the early exit of Kolo Touré—although, based on his recent form, this might have been a blessing in disguise. Senderos did quite well in his place, but in truth the pace of the game suited him more than the usual high tempo of the EPL.

Unfortunately, in order to win the return leg and qualify, I strongly believe that they will definitely have to play with no handbrake this time, even if it means running a higher risk of conceding a goal or two. They are more than capable of scoring a couple of goals themselves. They will need to. It’s as simple as that. (Yes, I am aware of the possibility of another 0-0 draw and extra time and penalty kicks. Let’s just not go there.)

Elsewhere, the other Milanese team was undone by shockingly poor refereeing and the usual stroke of luck for Liverpool in the Champions’ League. I mean, I have absolutely no love lost for Materazzi. But how do the two offences that he committed amount to a red card? If they do, then we need about half a dozen players sent off in each and every Champions’ League game. I am all for fighting against cynicism in defenders and punishing them accordingly. But you cannot start doing so in the middle of a competition by picking one team arbitrarily and deciding that that particular team—or that one player—will now be punished in the strongest possible fashion. It’s just not right.

I would love it if referees started issuing yellow cards systematically for all cynical offences. But the key word here is systematically. It has to apply to every team, all the time, in all competitions. Otherwise it simply destroys the fairness of the competition.

Again, I am not regretting for one moment that an Italian team will be booted out of the competition. The last thing we need is more Italians teams in the final rounds. And if I were a referee I would give a red card to Materazzi for just showing up on the pitch. But then, so would I for Jamie Carragher. The thing is, I am not a referee. And that referee in the Liverpool – Inter Milan game shouldn’t be one either.

Benitez and his team got lucky once more, but you can’t help but wonder just how long his luck will last. There has to be a limit. It’s not about Liverpool showing their true colours in Europe. It’s about Liverpool being particularly lucky in Europe. It’s as simple as that. I distinctly remember Gerrard committing a foul worthy of a straight red card in a crucial game in the earlier rounds of the competition that they won back in 2005. Had he been sent off as he deserved to be, the outcome of that game would probably have been very different, and they probably would never have reached the final. Again, they just got lucky. But it can’t last forever.

Manchester United got lucky too last night. They got a barely deserved equalizer late in the game, just as they did a couple of weeks ago at White Hart Lane. Only this time the value of that goal is much higher. It’s an away goal, and they have every chance of going through now.

As for Chelsea, well, what can be said? Didn’t they sack Mourinho because they wanted more spectacular football? Rrrrrright. Chelsea are the Milan AC of English football—without the pedigree, that is. There is only one way to spell the way they play. And it’s b-o-r-i-n-g. I can’t help but hope for an upset at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight, because that lack of ambition does not deserve to be rewarded. But then, look at Milan AC’s pedigree…

One Response to “Champions’ League: Arsenal 0 – Milan AC 0”

  1. MaCinJay says:

    I said before that these type of results are rare for Arsenal but I really didn’t expect Milan to be quite so negative. Credit where credit is due though – they are an excellent defensive unit. It is not pretty but it is effective.

    Kaka et al will show a lot more enterprise at the San Siro so Arsenal will be up against it. On the other hand this may open up the game and provide better counter-attacking opportunities for us.

    The saving grace of course is that we didn’t concede an away goal, so if we score Milan will have to win the leg to go through. What a fascinating prospect!

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.