AC Milan vs. Arsenal: 5 Things We Learned About the Gunners in Italy

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2012

AC Milan vs. Arsenal: 5 Things We Learned About the Gunners in Italy

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    Somewhere around 50 minutes into Arsenal's meltdown Wednesday night in the San Siro, the British commentator on the American television feed said more with seven words than any scribe could have written with 10 times as many.

    "This is not," he said, "a great Milan side."

    Sadly, no. And Arsenal only trailed by three goals at that point.

    Arsenal's second really, really bad loss of the season shared little, if anything, in common with the first. Six months ago, when the Gunners flopped 8-2 at Old Trafford, at least they showed up short-handed. Six months ago, at least United were rampant.

    AC Milan, though? Not so much. In dispatching Arsenal—with ease—by four goals, the Rossoneri were not free-flowing, rampant or all that impressive. Instead, they were clinical, composed and, above all, competent.

    Make no mistake: This was not a performance for the ages. Milan merely showed up. Based on Arsenal's performance Wednesday night, the New York Red Bulls—whose uniform Thierry Henry will wear the next time he plays a professional match—probably could have done the same.

    Three weeks from now, Arsenal will probably play their final Champions League match of the season. After a few more weeks, Milan will probably do the same. In the meantime, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger must head, yet again, back to the drawing board.

    So what now? If Arsenal want to make anything of this wretched season, Wenger will have to learn something from his side's insipid performance at the San Siro. But as anyone who watched the match will agree, a few cosmetic changes aren't going to do the trick.

    Somebody cue John Blutarsky.

The Magic of the FA Cup

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    After Wednesday's debacle, Arsenal must focus on two targets for the rest of the season.

    First, they should focus on finishing in the top four of the Barclays Premier League. With fourth place comes Champions League qualification and, more importantly, money. With money, Arsenal—presumably, at least—can address some of the glaring deficiencies in the squad.

    Second, Arsenal should focus on their FA Cup run. After Wednesday's historic loss, the Champions League run is all but over. That means Arsenal's only chance for silverware this season is the FA Cup.

    A long run in the FA Cup is important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, winning a piece of silverware would right some—not nearly all—of the wrongs of the current Arsenal season.

    For another, an FA Cup title would give the fans—who have gone without silverware since 2005—a reason to back Arsene Wenger for a little while longer.

    Without it, Wenger's position in North London may become even more precarious than it already feels.

Tactical Questions

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    Wenger's decision to leave out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was odd. Conventional wisdom says that AC Milan are vulnerable to speedy wingers.

    In place of the Ox, Wenger started Tomas Rosicky. The Czech midfielder offered little offensively, and at 31, it seems his best days are well behind him.

    But while Wenger's team selection was confusing, his tactics were indecipherable. As expected, Arsenal's two specialty full-backs—what a sight that was, huh?—found plenty of space on Milan's flanks early in the first half.

    The wide attacks faded quickly, though, and Arsenal seemed to withdraw into the defensive third. Robin van Persie found himself isolated against Milan's center-backs, and with that in mind it's hardly surprising that the Dutchman's first real chance came midway through the second half.

    And as Arsenal showed again Wednesday, employing a defensive style is not in their best interests…

No Defense, None of the Time

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    One of the defining features of Arsenal's season has been poor defense, starting with the Old Trafford disaster.

    Wednesday was nearly as disastrous. Milan employed simple tactics, favoring long balls over the top of Arsenal's defense. But they worked, as Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic routinely beat the offside trap and had their way with Arsenal's flat-footed defenders.

    With Arsenal's back four routinely going missing for Mick Dundee-style walkabouts, it's hard to see why Wenger didn't just start the injured Per Mertesacker and have him stand in one place for 90 minutes.

    Nobody bothered to pick up Kevin-Prince Boateng's flat run ahead of the first goal (which was admittedly nice). Bacary Sagna let Ibrahimovic fly past him unchallenged to set up the second. Thomas Vermaelen fell down on the third. And Johan Djourou rugby-tackled Ibrahimovic to set up the penalty for the fourth.

    A lame Mertesacker hardly could have done any worse.

Where's Theo?

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    When he left the match at halftime, Theo Walcott had completed fewer passes than his goalkeeper. Truly, if you detected Walcott's presence in the match at all, you possess mystical powers.

    Walcott was anonymous for 45 minutes before being subbed out for Thierry Henry at halftime. And for that matter, so was Arsenal's midfield.

    It seems silly, really, but it must be asked: How does a team produce nothing offensively and still repeatedly find itself caught out on the counterattack?

    Only the ineffectual and AWOL Mikel Arteta and Alex Song will ever know.

So Sorry, Thierry

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    The Thierry Henry sequel ended poorly for Arsenal. And that's a shame, because Henry created some memorable moments during his second stint in North London.

    First he scored against Leeds to keep Arsenal's FA Cup campaign rolling. Then he completed the comeback with a late winner against Sunderland to catapult the Gunners back into the top four.

    Clearly, Henry wasn't the same legendary player who scored more than 200 goals for Arsenal in his first tour of duty with the club. But the second time around, he played an inspirational role, served as a leader and, of course, came up with a few vital goals.

    With him, Arsenal started building momentum. Without him—Henry now heads back to New York to join the Red Bulls ahead of the MLS season—Arsenal will have to pick up the pieces. Somehow.

    Follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeCummings37

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