If the pitch at Milan was shoddy, so was Arsenalai??i??s performance last night. It wasnai??i??t supposed to be ai???one of those gamesai??i?? for Arsenal; theAi??bronze-laden legendary figure of Thierry Henry was supposed to set foot on the pitch in Arsenal colors for that one last time.Ai??For the swansong of the once irresistible French striker, Arsenal didnai??i??t show up for the crucial Champions League encounter, an unusual characteristic of this team for some years now. They were completelyAi??terrified to bring it to their Italian counterparts like Cesc and co. had four years ago. With an unfortunate assortment of tactical blunders, horrible pitch conditions and poor luck with injuries, the Gunners came back home with a four-goal deficit to take care off in the second leg.

No Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arseneai??i??s Usual Big Game Shocker

For a Gooner, it was telling that sighs of resentment had replaced shocked gasps. Accepting and givingAi??inAi??to the ludicrous tactical decisions that Arsene has been taking before big games for some years now, is in their blood. Arsenalai??i??s in-form youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was not given a start and Czech captain Tomas Rosicky was given the ai???wingerai??i?? role. The immediate flaw with such a tactical changeAi??is the fact that the pitchAi??is visibly reduced in breadth, a football felony in an away encounter,Ai??if there ever was one.

Rosicky likes to operate from the middle and drives the game from a central focal point,Ai??leaving the left wing deserted. It doesnai??i??t change anything if you play him on the left, he will still ai???drift inai??i?? -Ai??a demeanor of his, that you really canai??i??t blame him for! Although the former Dortmund player had a reasonablyAi??good game, his presence was most pronouncedAi??in the middle of the park than on the wings, cutting offAi??an entire dimension whereAi??the travelling Gunners could have posed a threat. The fact that Theo Walcott is almost ineffectual when he becomes stationary in front of defenders, doesnai??i??t really help Arsenalai??i??s causeAi??on the other wing. It is only when the Englishman beats defenders with his sheer pace, that van Persie gets those assists.Ai??As with any disciplined Italian outfit, you really donai??i??t expect them to be adventurous against the likes of Theo. They will prefer to err on the side of caution, in order to deal with purveyors of blistering pace.

No OverLapping From The Full Backs

Without overlapping Full-Backs, the game becomes very predictable and one-dimensional. Gibbs, justAi??returning from an injury, was content to sit back in his own half for the entire duration of the game. The Arsenal midfielders, whenever in space, searched for that option on the left wing, but none were available, throughout the game. Overlapping for a Full Back is a natural attribute -Ai??If a striker comes back after an injury, he doesnai??i??t stop shooting, does he?

Bacary Sagna was arguably notAi??too bad withAi??his overlapping efforts, but his crossing was shoddy to say the least, not a single ball fell to an Arsenal player from crosses over the 90 minutes. With limited contribution from the Full-Backs, it got very difficult for the midfielders to find van Persie in space. He was heavily man-marked throughout the game, and understandably so.

High Offside Line, No Pressing

It is clear that this Arsenal team is only capable of winning football games on the basis of their offensive acumen; their defensive frailties are exposed time and again. When you play against an Italian team, compact and flawless in their defensive strategy, your shortcomings are even more visible. The Arsenal back four held a very dangerous line all through the game, yet failed to press on to the Milan players, giving them ample space to run into, and execute through-passes with consummate ease.

Fans have often complained about Andrei Arshavin’s lack of participation in defensive duties for the team.Ai??You might want to analyze yesterday’s game toAi??grade Theo Walcott’s involvement in the same category. He wasnai??i??t covering his Full Back inAi??vast swathesAi??of the game,Ai??leaving SagnaAi??in two mindsAi??most ofAi??the time ai??i?? whether to close in or sit back and wait for the wingers to run into him. In one such predicament, unable to track the run of Ibrahimovic and then failing in the catch-up act too, he opened the channel for the 2ndAi??goal for Milan.

Poor Pitch ai??i?? Not An Excuse, But Something To Ponder Upon

The football bounced on the San Siro green like an aimless balloon most of the time and first-touches were becoming more and more embarrassing for both sides, especiallyAi??forAi??the travelling party who are not accustomed to these conditions.Ai??With playersAi??slipping throughout the game, there was seemingly always an ankle-twisting calamity waiting to happen. One such slippage did lead to a Milan goal, Vermaelen obliging and Robinho not wasting an opportunity – as if he ever needed an invitation to shoot from distance!

Cynics might argue that both teams played on the same surface, thereby obviating any undue advantage to either side. But, in that caseAi??- why do we need a pitch at all, to play a European game? Why donai??i??t we make teams play on the busy streets of a modern metropolis? Or on a minefield in Afghanistan, for that matter? Ai??The UEFA should inspect a pitch before every game and only when, and if,Ai??they deem it suitable for a game of football should the match start. The referees did their usual inspection before the game, but a torrid 90 minutes later, there remains a cloud over their judgement.

Can Arsenal Come Back?

When posed the same question, Arsene put it quite mildly ai??i??

ai???Let’s be realistic, we don’t play in dream world. Maybe two per cent or five per cent statistically! We have to show a completely different performance and you never know. But, you have to say, realistically, we are out of the competition.ai???

Arsenal need to concentrate on their league run, fight for that fourth place finish and if they still want to win some silverware this season, they have an FA Cup encounter with Sunderland where the pitch wasn’t too nice the last time around either. What a depressing thought for an ordinarily flamboyant team. Sometimes, you just need toAi??put your head down and grind outAi??wins!

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8 Responses to “Arsenal Endure Champions League Nightmare As Thierry Henry Fairy Tale Ends”

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  1. Inder Methil says:

    nice piece….I agree, Arsenal simply didn’t do much. I simply don’t understand Wenger’s persistence with Ox-not starting:P…in general, Milan were simply the far better team…

  2. Donna Van Oss says:

    Milan got a taste of blood early, then proceeded to go for the jugular….Arsenal showed no real passion in the 1st half and while they did show glimpses of promise in the 2nd it was too late….Long list of mistakes…..

  3. SiO2Fe says:

    This whole idea of playing with a high-backline, under the notion that Barca’s way is the only way to play football, will be the undoing of English football.

  4. redNblack_blood says:

    This is what happens when you play boys against MEN!!!!
    Forza Milan!!!!

  5. alvin says:

    Your pitch analysis is so flawed.
    First of all, only the flanks were relayed and Vermaelen’s slip was in the the center of the pitch that could not have been further away.
    Second of all, that grass was layed only 3 days ago which means not even Milan was used to playing on this field. Don’t be so biased.

    • Abhik says:

      very true!
      It remembers me of Mourinho’s Chelsea where they put more sand under grass to hinder Barcelona’s passing game, but eventually Rijkard’s Barca won the tie.
      Can I say then, Arsenal is ‘poor man’s Barcelona’?

      I’d like to see how Theo/Ox would perform in the return leg at Emirates where Arsenal would put more grass on sidetracks to make it ‘smoother than a highway’.

  6. Abhik says:

    I liked your write up. I understand it’s written from Arsenal point of view, as it doesn’t mention Milan’s finesse, and you’re right about the wrong strategy.