Now that Arsenal fans have spent the superlatives and the bile has poured forth from the dissenters, it is time to make a reasonable assessment of what happened at the San Siro.
There can be little argument that Arsenal were great.
Despite what some people have said, Milan did not play poorly. Arsenal actually did play that well.
Carlo Ancellotti said it best: “[Arsenal] deserved to qualify because they did not allow us to play as we wanted.” An honorable and bang-on assessment of the match.
And that’s saying a lot considering last night’s loss for Milan is likely the death knell of Ancelotti’s Rosseneri coaching career.
Elsewhere on the pitch, Mathieu Flamini announced his presence to anyone and everyone who has so far failed to pay attention to his abilities. Flamini (with some help from Sagna and Fabregas) nullified the World Footballer of the Year, and silencing Kaka takes some doing.
It was done so well, in fact, that Kaka’s frustration reached an uncharacteristically petulant level. He earned a yellow card for dissent after Sagna closed him down for the umpteenth time.
Arsenal fans should also be thrilled by the possibility that Theo Walcott has finally earned himself a place in the starting 11.
Walcott has featured in three straight games now, and he has made an impact in each and every one of them. And setting up Adebayor’s injury time goal after breaking Kaladze’s tackle was even better than his two goals against Birmingham.
Moreover, Walcott’s goals and assists may just lead to a relegation of Emmanuel Eboue to the bench.
Eboue is insufferable and much hated by the bulk of Arsenal fans, whereas Walcott is much loved despite the pace of his development. Theo’s performance suggests that it won’t be long before Eboue is slithering out of Wenger’s reckoning—and staying there.
So Arsenal's victory was well earned, but it was also an impressive show of a team-wide ability to overcome adversity.
Humiliating losses to Tottenham and Man Utd., in-fighting between strikers, a horrific injury that debilitated the entire squad and led to two tough draws, and an overly emotional captain losing the plot at a critical moment—these are the sorts of happenings that can kill a team.
Arsenal didn't let that happen, though. And many positives over and above mere victory came out of their “coming of age” at the San Siro.
Of course all the aforementioned, but then there’s also the brilliant performance of Cesc Fabregas, the return of Arsenal’s team spirit, and the excellent tactical display by Arsene Wenger. Even Arsenal’s little record of being the first English team to beat Juventus, Real Madrid, and AC Milan in their strongholds!
But it is just one step.
It’s one step toward this year’s Champions League Final. It’s one step forward in the young Gunners’ burgeoning careers. It’s one step in this squad’s march to greatness.
But it is only one step.
This Arsenal team can and will win trophies. They proved their metal and true potential at the San Siro.
Will they win something this year? I think so, but even if they don’t it is not the end of the world for them or for their fans.
They are just starting to grow, and when they reach their full potential they will be unstoppable.
Until those trophies come, however, let’s just enjoy watching them develop.
And with any luck twenty years from now my son and I will watch Arsenal in a CL game, and we’ll see Cesc Fabregas play his final European match with the same dignity and class Paulo Maldini displayed the other night.
European football will be diminished without Maldini, and I am sad he had to lose. But if his unparalleled career came to an end just as other great careers were born, this is a fitting tribute to the Italian legend.