AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0: Lessons from a San Siro thrashing
What did we learn from Arsenal's humiliating 4-0 defeat by AC Milan in the Champions League last-16 first-leg on Wednesday?
Starting Walcott was a mistake
Time is fast running out for Theo Walcott to prove himself at The Emirates. Many Gunners fans have lost patience with him already and most will have been frustrated to see his name in the starting line-up for Wednesday’s clash at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Hope of the forward recreating some of the scintillating form he displayed at the beginning of last season is now looking worryingly bleak. After offering next to nothing going forward, he was replaced by Thierry Henry at half-time – and little wonder too.
Kevin-Prince Boateng sparkles
The German-born Ghanaian international deserves a mention for a brilliant first-half display, capped with a sublime goal. The former Portsmouth midfielder tormented Bacary Sagna and other members of the Arsenal back four throughout the opening stages, and his sweetly-struck dipping volley that flew in off the crossbar after 15 minutes handed Milan the lead they deserved. A word too for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who set out to cause the visitors problems from the off, and netted Milan’s fourth from the spot after substitute Johan Djourou was adjudged, somewhat harshly, to have brought the Swede down.
A disruptive defensive re-shuffle
One of the only positives of a humiliating night at the San Siro was Kieran Gibbs’ return to action. The left-back has been sorely missed in recent months following his lengthy lay-off with a hernia problem, and he slotted straight back into the Arsenal back-four on the most testing of occasions. His return shifted Thomas Vermaelen back to centre-half – but the Belgium international looked shaky in what is supposed to be his preferred position, and his slip left Robinho with plenty of time and space to fire home Milan’s third. The sight of Laurent Koscielny limping off before half-time will also be a concern for Arsene Wenger, as the French centre-half was Arsenal’s best performer in the first half.
Rosicky fails to lead by example
At 31, and as one of Arsenal’s most experienced players, Tomas Rosicky should have been leading by example in Milan. Sadly, and as has too often been the case this season, the Czech Republic international failed to stamp his authority on the game. True, he was playing slightly out of position, moved out to the left as Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song took up the central roles, but his performance was simply pitiful and was summed up by his miscued shot in the 83rd minute that spun out for a throw-in. He was by no means Arsenal’s only midfield passenger at the San Siro—Ramsey was poor and Arteta looked out of his depth—but Wenger is likely to be disappointed at Rosicky’s failure to make his experience count, when it really counted.
Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves his chance
One could perhaps understand Wenger’s decision not to start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on such a daunting occasion if those picked ahead of him were worthy of their spot in the line-up. But it is difficult to rationalise the Frenchman’s choice on Wednesday. The 18-year-old has been in sparkling form since the turn of the year and has genuinely proved to be one of the Gunners’ most potent attacking threats. He has outshone his fellow Southampton youth product Walcott whenever the pair have started on the wings, and he deserves a regular run in the team. The teenager was thrown into the fray at the San Siro with his side 3-0 down – and he still looked brighter than both Walcott and Rosicky combined. With Gervinho on his way back from the Africa Cup of Nations, Arsenal fans will be intrigued to see if Walcott’s apparently untouchable starting spot is now up for grabs.