AC Milan, the Italian giants who herald a worldwide reputation, were obvious opposition worth avoiding in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
The Rossoneri are a team boasting immense talent. With Swedish hitman Zlatan Ibrahimovich leading the front line, followed closely by Kevin-Prince Boateng in the midfield and Thiago Silva marshaling the back line, the Italians were always going to be viewed as outside perennial favourites for the competition.
Having now drawn English giants Arsenal, a team that knocked them out four years ago at the same stage, and one that too boasts a plethora of talent all over, it seems the stage it set for another classic European encounter.
This article aims to examine the five key battles that are likely to play out in the upcoming fixtures in February between Arsenal and AC Milan.
AC Milan's experienced Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovich will go into the game versus Arsenal knowing that if he and his team stand any chance of scoring against the Gunner's ever-improving defense, then breaching Thomas Vermaelen is an absolute must.
The Belgian defender has fast gained a reputation as being one of the most reliable center backs in Europe after securing his big-stage move to the Gunners in 2009. And After enduring a torrid injury-plagued second season following a successful first, Thomas Vermaelen has returned to the fray in quite some style.
Last time these two giants met, Zlatan Ibrahimovich was plying his trade at AC Milan's cross-town rivals Internationale, while Vermaelen was captaining Ajax in Holland.
Given that these two are quite literally the fulcrum of their team's offense (Ibrahimovich) and defence (Vermaelen), it's fair to say these two will be seeing a lot of each other in the upcoming fixture. It's also safe to assume that the difference between winning and losing this one may just rest on the performances of either of these two's shoulders.
After being singled out by previous club legends George Weah and Dejan Savicevic as being one of "Europe's best footballers," it's no surprise Kevin-Prince Boateng is already being viewed by the Arsenal faithful one of AC Milan's most potent potential threats for the upcoming fixture.
Known for his strength, daring runs into the opposition box and of course his explosive and unpredictable nature on the football pitch, Boateng possesses all the skills required to literally change the trajectory of a game within a matter of seconds.
And, given his recent form, it's fair to say he'll prove more than just a handful to Arsenal's midfield marshall Alex Song.
The Cameroonian defensive-midfielder, viewed by many as one of the most improved players in all of Europe, is a hard-tackling enforcer that's developed a unique art of breaking up opposition play whilst staying on his feet. Equipped with a surprising ability to pick out a pass as well, this matchup will likely prove imperative in the overall outcome of the tie.
Having only just recently won his first cap for France, Laurent Koscielny is viewed by many Arsenal fans, as well as objective observers of the English Premier League, as one of the most underrated defenders in all of Europe.
With an incredible knack of reading attacking movements, consequently intercepting the ball and effectively breaking up play, Koscielny possesses all the characteristics required to be a top-level defender, even if his physical frame doesn't suggest it. Given his versatility, which continues to be proven as the season wears on, he's likely to start.
Arsenal fans will thus be hoping Koscielny's brilliant mental attributes don't desert him then when he plays Brazilian superstar Pato.
Pato will likely add that extra bit of explosiveness and anti-pragmatism to AC Milan's attack. Whilst possessing both speed and technical ability, it seems the Brazilian will look to feed off the brilliance and creativity of those around him in order to pose a threat.
Koscielny then, understandably so, will have to remain alert and alive, as he'll be looking to continue intercepting key passes that might otherwise result in a goal for the opposition.
Ignazio Abate, AC Milan's versatile defender, capable of playing on either side of the defence, is a defender that could well prove to be a problem to Arsenal's interchanging wingers.
Capable of playing on either full-back positions, while possessing adequate skill and ability with both his feet, Abate is the sort of no-nonsense defender that likes to hackle opposition and "get stuck in." His ventures forward will also likely mean Arsenal's two wingers, Gervinho and Theo Walcott, will have to do more tracking back than they'd like, depending on which side they find themselves throughout the course of the game.
Walcott and Gervinho, on the other hand, will prove to be a handful for Abate whenever he encounters them. Given their interchanging game play, which is developing more and more as the season wears on, it's fair to say they'll be seeing a lot of the Italian throughout the tie.
Arsenal have relied quite heavily on the pair's ability to beat their man and play the killer final ball. If Abate is able to subdue them, then expect an Arsenal team struggling to create chances up front. However, if the pair are able to run amok, then expect the Gunners' attacking prowess to operate in full force come February's encounter.
Though the title of the slide may suggest a humorous take on the situation, given Robin van Persie's versatility and lethal goalscoring form, it's fair to say AC Milan's entire back line will quite literally have to remain on their toes to stop the Dutchman.
Robin van Persie can efficiently drift out wide to either flank, play right down the middle or even drop deep into "the hole," and still prove a handful for any defence. And though his recent form suggests that of an out-and-out goal scorer, his creative abilities cannot be discounted, meaning AC Milan's defensive midfielders will likely have to man-mark him in order to completely subdue the Dutchman.
Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Ambrosini, Mark van Bommel and even goalie Christian Abbiati will need to remain alert and aware of RVP's free-flowing movements around their box.
Given the Dutchman's importance to the Gunners and the role he plays in the team, it's fair to say that if the Rossoneri are able to successfully subdue Robin van Persie, they may just stop Arsenal as a whole.
Do you agree or disagree with the list? Write down your key battles for the upcoming tie in the comments section below.
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