Arsenal’s season effectively over after Champions League destruction by Milan inside San Siro
For all the constant swaying between crisis and resurgence for Arsenal this season, this was perhaps the final confirmation as to where the Gunners’ fortunes lay as we approach the meat end of this campaign.
Three consecutive wins had lead to the latest false dawn, with the prophetic Wenger speaking before the game of how ‘crisis’ has spread like a fire from one Premier League giant to the next this season. But after being completely outclassed inside the San Siro on Wednesday night, and suffering a hiding so severe that a recovery appears nigh on impossible in the return leg in two weeks, there is no doubt the heat is firmly back on the Gunners, and not on Andre Vilas-Boas’ Chelsea door as the Arsenal chief alluded to in his pre-match conference.
Footballing opinions may be liable to change with the wind and are notoriously fickle of course, but make no mistake; this was a firm reminder of how short this current Arsenal team are in almost all areas of the pitch.
Artificially propped up by the lethal enterprise of Van Persie in front of goal this season, the Gunners were woefully impotent up front. Nullify their one, and perhaps only, true attacking threat and you nullify the whole team. Thierry Henry was thrown on at half-time with the Gunners two down, and it was sad to see the legendary 34-year-old striker used not just as a last-ditch option, but desperately relied on to provide the main spark with his ageing legs. That is a testament to how limited the current Arsenal are up-front.
It goes without saying, this was to be far from a dream farewell for Arsenal’s iconic leading goalscorer.
Perhaps equally as worrying is the situation further back down the pitch. This Arsenal team can no longer control games like they used to and a desperate situation in midfield for the Gunners ever since Fabregas went back home to Barcelona seems to have been glossed over thanks to Wilshere’s emergence as the midfield dynamo.
The peculiar re-turfing carried out each side of the San Siro pitch before the game had the curious optical effect of making the pitch appear much smaller than it was on the night, but this was no excuse for Arsenal’s midfield contriving to suffocate their own space during the game with poor ball retention or lack of movement.
This is nothing new to the ears of Arsenal fans of course, but something which was once their strength has now become so impotently vulnerable at the highest level. Any team which fields Ramsay, Rosicky, Song and an ageing Arteta in midfield will always come up short against Europe’s elite and Wilshere’s return can’t come soon enough.
True, Milan produced a performance that would test any side, but that will be the marker if you want to win trophies at this level. Ignoring the baffled musings of pro-Premier League mouth-piece Andy Townsend, Ibrahimovic was tremendous on the night, with Robinho and Boateng buzzing around him to create all manner of problems and perhaps one of the goals of the Champions League in Boateng’s first.
A comeback is now surely way beyond Arsenal in the second-leg so Wenger must dampen the crisis talk yet again and make a top four finish – and closing the gap with Spurs in third place – this season’s priority. The FA Cup tie at the weekend will be another stern test, and after this humiliation, an exit from that competition looks likely as well.