Crisis-stricken Arsenal travel to Italy to face an in-form AC Milan side in the Europa League Last-16 first leg tie, in an encounter which could yet define the Gunners’ disastrous season.
Arsenal meet AC Milan in a European tie for the first time since 2012, when the two sides met in the Champions League, and this time the tie could be more important than any of their recent European endeavours. With a faltering season in the league, and a top-four place seemingly out of reach, the Europa League represents the only way Arsenal could get back into the Champions League after all.
Arsenal have had a torrid time recently, losing four games in a row, for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s tenure since his appointment in 1996. With added pressure on the team as well as the manager, Arsene Wenger’s side needs to overcome a stringent Milan side in their quest to further advance in the competition.
AC Milan, in contrast to Arsenal, have not been beaten in the last six games in all competition, and under their new manager and former San Siro favourite, Gennaro Gattuso, they have found their mojo back and are taking huge strides towards becoming a formidable force again.
Team News & Tactics
AC Milan, under former player and current manager Gennaro Gattuso have experienced an upswing in form, and many believe this could be the start where the club might reach the greatness of their old self. The main reason was the swift change in the first team that the Italian has deployed since his appointment.
For the clash against Arsenal, Milan will be without the services of Andrea Conti, Luca Antonelli and Ignazio Abate as all three players remain out with injuries. Milan have no suspensions on the cards and thus, Gatusso has a full-strength squad available for the Arsenal clash, despite those absentees mentioned above.
Gattuso has preferred Lucas Biglia anchoring the midfield as well as striker Patrick Cutrone leading the line for the club; all moves have so far returned results in Milan’s favour, and Gatusso will be bent on using the same person to inflict more pain on Arsenal.
Probable Starting-XI (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Rodriguez, Bonucci, Romagnoli, Calabria; Biglia, Kessie, Bonaventura; Suso, Calhanoglu, Cutrone.
Team News & Tactics
The big injury news for Arsenal is that Hector Bellerin is out with a knee ligament damage and will play no part in the first leg. Nacho Monreal and Alexandre Lacazette are absentees for this clash through injuries, with the Spaniard yet to recover since limping off from the Carabao Cup Final and the Frenchman still recovering from a knee surgery he underwent in February.
Another notable absentee would be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who is ineligible to play for Arsenal in the Europa League since his move in January. Arsene Wenger hence, is set to name Danny Welbeck as Arsenal’s central striker for the Milan clash.
Wenger now has all his midfielders fit to face and make a late, tinkering call on the starting XI, but looks sure to start Ramsey after resting him for the weekend. David Ospina could start in goal, as he has done this season in the Europa League as well as considering Cech’s performance against Brighton at the weekend.
Probable Starting-XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Chambers, Koscielny, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Ramsey; Wilshere, Ozil, Mkhitaryan; Welbeck
- In the two sides’ last meeting at the San Siro, Milan inflicted Arsene Wenger’s most massive defeat in Europe as Arsenal manager, losing 4-0.
- Arsenal have not reached beyond the last-16 of a European competition since 2009-10.
- Since 2002, Milan have lost just one game from 18-matches in the Europa League/UEFA Cup played at the San Siro.
- Arsenal have scored 18-goals in the competition this season, only Real Sociedad and Zenit have scored more.
- Current AC Milan manager, Gattuso, played a full 90-minutes when the two sides met at the San Siro in 2012.
Player To Watch
Arsenal’s form of late, hasn’t been one the Gunners’ fan might want to remember but in those dark moments, Granit Xhaka’s form has been something to cheer about. Xhaka provided the assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal over the weekend, but that aside, his overall performance in the last three games would put him in the spotlight.
Against AC Milan, Xhaka has the chance to show the Gunners’ faithful that he is no hit-and-miss kind of player. Xhaka could continue on the recent good form for his club to ensure they go through to the next round, or least get a good result back to the Emirates for the return leg.
Xhaka’s task against AC Milan is to battle their in-form midfielder, Lucas Biglia and it would be interesting to see the battle in midfield among those two.
AC Milan 1-2 Arsenal
Although it would be naive to predict an Arsenal victory considering their recent form as well as AC Milan’s, the Gunners know the seriousness of the game as well as the competition itself and will be going all-out to win it. Arsenal have never lost 5-games in a row in Wenger’s tenure and are unlikely to post that unwanted record.
AC Milan might be seeing an upward spiral in form, but the Gunners are no pushovers, and their squad quality and Arsene Wenger’s vast experience would prove a point against an energised Milan side and their inexperienced, yet ecstatic manager, Gennaro Gattuso.