It’s been over 30 hours since that almost famous match at the Emirates Stadium, and I am still smiling. Smiling, because rival fans are coming up to me and telling “Arsenal were brilliant against Milan, and almost did the impossible. Respect.”
After a topsy-turvy season, that it has been so far, to listen to such words, is heart-warming. Arsenal really played a gutsy game against Milan, and gave its fans real hope. A real sense of joy, that Arsenal is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of football. That dreams are real.
Consigned to the fact that there were no hopes of qualification, I switched on my idiot box at precisely 1:10 AM, on Wednesday morning. The cameras rolled on from the Milan side to the referees to the Arsenal side. You could see the determination in the eyes of the players. Was it possible?
Arsenal attacked right from the moment the game started. There was not a dull moment in the first half. A side, reeling with injuries, nearly 7 injuries in midfield, looked to make the impossible, possible, and overturn a 4 goal deficit, against the Italian champions.
The Italians were quickly put under pressure, as Arsenal’s pacy midfield looked to catch Milan from the start. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, was sizzling in midfield, as World Cup finalist Mark van Bommel tried to get to grips with him. The fact that the 18 year old former Southampton winger was sick the previous night and yet asked the manager to start, speaks remarkable volumes about him. He, didn’t, for a moment look fazed. And, what’s more, he is just 18 years old.
His first corner was cleared comfortably by Ibrahimovic. But, his second corner landed perfectly to the head of Laurent Koscielny, who lost all markers, and was alone to head the ball past Cristian Abbiati. The early goal was all so important to build the momentum.
Milan looked so cocky throughout the game. Ibrahimovic and Boateng had done enough small talk before the first leg, and they justified it in the first leg. However, Milan were so overconfident, that they even named 2 keepers on the bench, a ridiculous decision, for which, Allegri got reprimanded, by Silvio Berlusconi.
Soon, Arsenal created a flurry of chances. Theo Walcott sent van Persie clear of Milan’s defence, but the Dutchman’s effort was saved by Abbiati. Then, a mistake from Emmanuelson, saw van Persie in a great position, but he and Rosicky made a hash of a great chance. Arsenal surged forward again through Theo Walcott, who bamboozled Djamel Mesbah, leaving Rosicky in a great position to score. Score, he did, to the roaring approval of a vociferous crowd at the Emirates.
The defence, I should say was unflinching. Thomas Vermaelen was gigantic, in doggedness, if not in size. He put himself on the line on many a time, and made a number of clearances. Laurent Koscielny, as ever, was composed, and never allowed Ibrahimovic to impose himself. The Frenchman looked all so comfortable dealing with the big Swede. Gibbs and Sagna, too put massive efforts, as Milan lacked creativity to work through Arsenal’s defence. The discipline was for all to see, as they kept a high line, and Ibrahimovic found himself flagged for offside, numerous times.
Chance became real hope, as Chamberlain surged forward, challenging the Rossoneri’s defence, whose best was to concede a penalty. van Persie had to replace the ball on the penalty spot, which may have disturbed his concentration, but not his will. Arsenal were 3-0 up, and Milan probably had their hearts in their mouths.
Milan were a completely different side in the second half though. More so, because Arsenal were tiring out, after having done most of the running in the opening half. They looked lot more composed in midfield. We can go another decade, speaking about van Persie’s miss, but he claims he would do it again, if he was in a similar position.
Chamberlain and Walcott played through injuries, because they had to. Arsenal had no real options on the bench. Park and Chamakh were thrown late on, but by that time Arsenal were out of steam
The final whistle bought a palpable sense of relief among the Milan players’ and fans. They were just happy to reach the finish line, and qualify to the next stage. On the flip side, the Gunners’ looked devastated. Not something you see often, when you win 3-0. Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Vermaelen looked crestfallen as they made their way to the tunnel. van Persie afforded a smile, but the dejection was clear to see.
3 weeks after a humiliating loss at the San Siro, and a painful loss at the Stadium of Light, Arsenal were all but written off as a force to be reckoned with, in the English game. Sites and papers were running amok with articles outlining Arsenal’s frailties, its problems and its shortcomings. And 2-0 down against Spurs’ after 34 minutes, you could almost see the media rubbing its hand again.
No one knows for sure, what happened. But, the team managed to find its resolve, its steel, to turn around things. They demolished Spurs 5-2, in 27 minutes, with some breathtaking attacking football. van Persie’s goal was a peach. Tomas Rosicky’s celebration was passionate. A week later, they came up against the Carling Cup champions, and, despite not being able to control the game, defended admirably well, and escaped with a 2-1 win. 3 days later, the Italian champions were run over by a young midfield.
I have always loved Arsenal, but the performance against Milan, makes me so proud of my team. So proud of my choice of choosing Arsenal as the club I wanted to support. Now, I am doubly proud.
Thanks Arsenal. 🙂