AC Milan: 6 Areas to Improve on After Beating Arsenal in the Champions League
Massimiliano Allegri was worried at the interval of the second leg at the Emirates stadium as the Gunners led 3-0, even more so when Robin van Persie was gifted one of the easiest chances he will ever likely receive.
Fortunately, Christian Abbiati was able to produce a string of fine saves to emerge with some credit, unlike his team mates, who will need to vastly improve when the next round arrives or they will almost certainly exit the competition.
Here are some areas that Milan particularly need to focus on in the coming weeks at Milanello.
The Return of Kevin-Prince Boateng as the Trequartista
Kevin-Prince Boateng has been in fine form this season but he has been plagued by injuries in recent months—hindering Massimiliano Allegri's tactics somewhat.
When Boateng is at the tip of the diamond, behind the strikers, Milan are a different side entirely.
The German-born Ghanaian is capable of making dangerous runs beyond the strikers, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, one of which will tend to drop deep to influence the game.
Boateng will provide more fluidity to the Rossoneri as the players rotate their positions throughout the game more, making it even tougher for the opposition to mark them.
He should return in nine days for the away game in Parma which will give him several matches to regain his form in time for the quarterfinals—a massive boost for Milan.
Greater Depth from the Bench
Milan had 11 injuries to contend with for the Arsenal game this week with Alberto Aquilani playing his first game back from injury too.
Alessandro Nesta, Luca Antonini, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Gennaro Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini, Clarence Seedorf, Alexander Merkel, Rodney Strasser, Alexandre Pato, Maxi Lopez and Antonio Cassano are all currently injured.
Furthermore, Massimo Ambrosini was suspended while Sulley Muntari and Pippo Inzaghi were unavailable due to not being listed in the UEFA squad.
Evidently this is an area that Milan will strengthen through time alone.
Many of these names will return for the next round which will allow Allegri many more options to call upon for the different scenarios that will arise.
Left Back, Mesbah Must Improve His Defending
Djamel Mesbah must improve.
The Algerian could maintain his role as the left-back given Luca Antonini is hardly Paolo Maldini, although Mesbah's performance on Tuesday might have made it seem that way.
Mesbah allowed his opponents, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, to gather the ball in deep areas and run at him for at least 10 yards before he attempted to make a tackle or press the space in front of him.
This must change and given the improved athleticism of the central defence with Philippe Mexes in place of the injured Alessandro Nesta, he can afford to leave some space in behind.
Both centre-backs possess enough pace to cover the full-backs.
This tactic of pressing the wide spaces would force the opposition to move the ball in to the central areas where Milan often have a numerical advantage due to utilising the diamond formation.
More Creativity in the Midfield, Enter Aquilani
Milan need some more ingenuity in the middle of the pitch.
When the burden is placed on Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robinho to deliver the goods, Milan can become rather predictable.
The opposition will crowd the strikers who drop deep and nullify the influence they have on the game.
Therefore the inclusion of Aquilani from the start will allow more passing combinations in the midfield.
When Ibrahimovic drops deep and midfielders such as Antonio Nocerino, Urby Emanuelson and Kevin-Prince Boateng make runs beyond, Aquilani can provide a wonderful array of passes to stretch the opposition.
More Composure in Front of Goal
Milan were guilty of spurning wonderful opportunities at The Emirates on Tuesday night which could have proven costly.
In the first half, Stephan El Shaarawy missed a glorious chance when set up by Urby Emanuelson, the Azzurrini international snatched at the opportunity, missing the target entirely.
It was the same story in the second half when Antonio Nocerino wasted a chance that seemed harder to miss.
Alberto Aquilani played a delightful pass between the Arsenal defence and Wojciech Szczesny, and the Azzurri international—despite having an empty net at his mercy—could only stab the ball straight at the Polish goalkeeper.
Fortunately, this did not prove costly for the Rossoneri, but if they have aspirations to win this competition then they must be more clinical in front of goal.
This is even more critical when they come up against sides that will assume the majority of possession, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Tactical Awareness When Possession Is Lost
Milan's main problem against Arsenal this week was that the Gunners were able to shift the ball quickly in transition.
A free-flowing trident in the midfield of Alex Song, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky all moved off each other to confuse the Milan midfield.
Urby Emanuelson and Antonio Nocerino were too rigid in their positions, which is a fundamental flaw in the diamond 4-4-2 formation that Allegri is dedicated to.
Due to the narrowness of the midfield, Nocerino and Emanuelson, or whoever Allegri selects as his carilleros, must use Van Bommel as a pivot and drop behind him if the other carillero decides to press the ball further towards the opposition's goal.
Due to the the midfield remaining static throughout the first half, Arsenal could penetrate the space between the lines at ease.
Allegri will know he has a lifeline and that his side will not be able to produce a performance of such substance again in this competition.
Otherwise, Milan will almost certainly be eliminated.
If the Rossoneri can address the issues brought up in this article they will remain in contention to win the Champions League for the eighth time.