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What's Ailing Arsenal? Learning From Others, Part II: AC Milan (Champions League)

Thierry Henry of Arsenal is consoled by Philippe Mexes of AC Milan after the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15, 2012 in Milan, Italy.
Thierry Henry of Arsenal is consoled by Philippe Mexes of AC Milan after the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15, 2012 in Milan, Italy.

This is Part II of a series of four posts looking at Arsenal's last three games leading up to the North London Derby. This post is on the UEFA Champions League game between Arsenal and AC Milan. Check out Part I, on the Premier League game against Sunderland, right here.

As Arsenal traveled to the San Siro for their Champions League match against AC Milan, the way to beat them -- or at least trouble them -- seemed simple to most. Tottenham Hotspur made things hard for them last season with their wide players, and they're not the only team that has beaten Max Allegri's Milan playing primarily down the wings.

Hilariously, and almost certainly intentionally, the pitch at the San Siro was screwed up and is still screwed up. The wide parts of the pitch were re-laid and looked like absolute garbage. Based on the way the players played while out wide, it probably played as poorly as it looked. The center of the pitch was immaculate.

Arsenal were poor in every facet of the game. The pitch didn't help matters, but it was not to blame. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta were not their best, the defense made errors, and Arsene Wenger made bad decisions, both with his initial team selection and his in-game changes. Milan won 4-0, and that score was a fair reflection of what happened. Arsenal were abysmal. Fun drawings after the jump. All stats are from WhoScored.

Arsenal inexplicably started Tomas Rosicky in a "wide" role. He didn't stay out wide much. I included Urby Emanuelson instead of Clarence Seedorf here because Seedorf only lasted 10 minutes. Here are how the teams "started".

football formations

Really? No Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Really?

Listen, Arsene. I get it. You don't want to throw the kid into the fire. He's played a lot recently and he might be tired. The pitch sucks. But if you've seen what wide players do to Milan and what AOC has done at his best this year and you don't account for those things to get him on the pitch, you're insane. Rosicky provided no width, didn't get a shot on target, and did not complete a "key pass".

Alex Song does nothing

Sometimes, Alex Song is very good. His best games make him look like a world class player. This was not one of his best games. He completely failed to neutralize or even slow down Kevin-Prince Boateng, and didn't deny service to the deep-dropping Zlatan Ibrahimovic either. KPB came off in the 70th minute and the two still combined for 102 touches. Song had just one tackle and one interception. He averages 5.5 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game in the UEFA Champions League.

Thiago Silva erased Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie forced one spectacular save out of Christian Abbiati in the 65th minute. That was Arsenal's first shot on target and their best chance of the game by a mile. RVP would get off two more shots, but Abbiati was never seriously tested again. Van Persie had just 28 touches on the night. He would drop deep to try to find the ball often, but was rarely successful in doing anything productive. While RVP was not great and Silva was spectacular, this is just as much on van Persie's teammates as it is on him and Milan's great defending.

Second half subs: Arsenal's finishing formation

football formations

This is, for lack of a better word, asinine. One of the two fullbacks gets forward, and the fullback that does not get forward is the one that is on the same side as the wide midfielder who cuts in. Alex Song's moves up into midfield late in the game, out of desperation, left Arsenal exposed at the back. Aaron Ramsey continued to not be effective. Wenger's decision to change to a 4-4-2 and take out his only true wide player at halftime, Walcott, was a poor one. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did not enter until the 66th minute, when Kieran Gibbs picked up a knock.

The goals -or- every Arsenal defender is bad

Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are, in theory, a quality central defense pairing and quality players individually. They've both had some excellent games this season. They were anything but excellent against Milan. They both had individual errors that led to goals, as did substitute defender Johan Djourou.

The first goal featured some poor defending, but was mostly just about Milan's quality. On a ball over the top, Kevin-Prince Boateng took the ball off his chest and hit an unreal volley. The next three goals were very preventable.

On Robinho's first goal, Koscielny failed to close him down and left him with a free header. On his second, Vermaelen fell down and gave Robinho a free shot. On the penalty, Milan's final goal, Djourou took down Ibrahimovic with an American football tackle.


This game was everything that was bad if you're an Arsenal supporter. There is no facet of the game in which they performed adequately, on a team, individual player, and management level. No player had a good game, though Mikel Arteta -- just like the Sunderland game looked at in Part I -- did not make any major mistakes. Arsene Wenger's initial team selection and substitutions were mind-boggling. There were team and individual errors in defense. The team made no sense tactically, both in overall team goals and individual roles. The team looked like a bunch of strangers and appeared to lack fight and belief. There was no way in which this game was not a complete and utter disaster for the Gunners.

This is, more or less, good news for Spurs. It's nice to know that we're about to play a team that has been capable of being this bad, this recently. The bad news is that there is no way we're going to see a team this bad at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. That was their floor. They're not going to find their floor for a second time in two weeks, at home, in a derby.