This evening we reap the benefits of doing the business earlier in the season overseas and at home in the Champions League as we take on Italian table-topping Milan. Drink it in people, because United and City fans can only watch with envy at the moment. Let’s face it, we can’t match them in the league but we’ve shown them our European pedigree.
Tonight is also the last chapter in a certain legendary strikers second spell at The Arsenal. Yup, Thierry Henry makes his final appearance this season as an Arsenal player, packing up his things tomorrow to head back to New York to don the captains armband for the Red Bulls. It may not be his final appearance, as the big man said so himself, but personally I think it might be. There is also part of me that hopes it is. Purely and simply because if it isn’t his last appearance, then it means he’ll be back in January next year, which means we’ve once again failed to address our striking issues and are having to call him into battle once more.
Anyway, let’s park that bit of negativity, because tonight we all need to be positive and hope that all of the Arsenal players, not just Titi, put a shift in once more. It might be General Henry’s last stand, but there are enough soldiers around to make it a good one. He’ll play some part in the game, of that I’m sure, but we’ll just have to wait and see if he can make the same impact as he did at the Stadium of Light last weekend.
For me the ‘Great Unexpectations’ continues in earnest. Being an ex-spud, I have no love for Kelvin Pink-Boner, but his comments about Arsenal being either great or poor are quite accurate. We’ve seen both hand how woeful Arsenal can be, but equally we’ve seen signs of this ‘spirit’ you hear the manager extolling the virtues of.
The key for tonight is that come 10pm, Arsenal are still in the tie and in with a chance in the second leg. We’ve generally been able to do that in years past when we’ve been away first; the only exception being the terrible game against Bayern Munich when we were 3-0 down before Kolo Toure snatched us back some hope. So for tonight, a win (preferable), a draw (agreeable) or a loss by one goal with us scoring at least one (acceptable) has got to be key.
The manager has said he will attack AC Milan, and providing we have played with their shooting boots on (Theo certainly being one) then we stand every chance. Whilst this AC Milan side do sit top of their league at the moment, it is no secret that Serie A is not quite to dominant league it was in the 90s and Arsenal are certainly capable of upsetting the fervent home support.
Milan have also had very ‘Arsenal-like’ injury and suspension problems. At the weekend they were missing 13 players for their league game against Udinese. Some of which are coming back from suspension – the most notable being Zlatan Ibrahimovich (sent off against Napoli), who was the chief protagonist in Arsenal’s defeat at the hands of Barca two seasons ago. Flamini, Boateng and Pato are all expected to shrug off their recent injury concerns and feature in what will be a tough night for us against all that attacking talent, which will also include another mercurial Brazilian in the shape of Robinho.
For Le Boss I think the team sheet will certainly have a familiar look about it. With Mertesacker’s ankle resembling more like a rainbow of pain, he will be replaced by Vermaelen in his preferred position of centre back. The only question will be who takes the left back spot. Johan Djourou has failed to impress as a covering full back and Miquel is not quite ready for the first team. Gibbs could be thrown into the mix, but with his injury record and the intensity of the game, I’d be staggered if Wenger risks it. So I think that Francis Coquelin will be given the nod to take up that position. He certainly deserves it after some of his performances this year and I hope he has a good game.
As I mentioned above, I’m very much taking a ‘no expectations’ stance to the games as they come. That does mean that scoreline predictions and a general summing up of how I think the game will pan out becomes quite a challenge. But we all know the challenge that lies before the team. We all know what our ideal outcome would be, so les just cheer the boys on – whether you’re at home in your armchair with a cup of tea, or your singing up for The Arsenal inside the San Siro, give Arsenal the support and passion you always do.