Arsenal Vs AC Milan: Last Stand

So, a few weeks ago we went to the San Siro to play AC Milan in the first leg of the Champions League last sixteen. It would be fair to say we came back on the end of a complete and utter tonking. The result was made worse by the fact that we weren’t outplayed by a brilliant Milan performance, it was purely and simply the worst Arsenal performance in fourteen consecutive years of Champions League football.

Never before have we failed like that on this stage. Yes, you could point to the semi-final against Manchester United a few years ago but on that night at home we were totally outclassed by a truly excellent United side. The defeat in the San Siro was something different, a result that owed as much to our own lack of quality and endeavour as those same qualities being present in the opposition. Milan didn’t have to work very hard to put the tie out of sight and that is inexcusable.

That is why, in my view, there’s something to play for tonight regardless of the Everest-sized mountain that is clawing back the 4-0 deficit. The fact is that the chances of us going through tonight are small to say the least. It would take quite simply our greatest night ever in Europe to accomplish that. No it isn’t impossible but nobody could fail to see that it isn’t what we’re likely to be talking about tomorrow morning.

But the blow to our pride, to our club in Milan went beyond elimination from the Champions League in my opinion, and that’s why I was aghast at suggestions we might rest players for tonight’s game and treat it as a bit of a superfluous match. I understand that we have an important league campaign to finish but to my mind this does matter. It should matter to our team, our manager, our coaches, our reserves, our youths, our directors, our tea ladies and the fans.

I am not willing to accept that we simply couldn’t be bothered on the biggest stage in world football. I am not willing to accept that we would not even try to respond to what happened in the San Siro. I am not willing to accept that I support a club with that little pride in itself. Rest players? Perhaps its a crude sentiment, but fuck that sideways.

Fortunately for me, Arsene Wenger sees it the same way. The manager won’t let it go without a fight and says,

“It is not an argument for us, we want to have a real go tomorrow, we want to make it possible.

“I would not be very credible to tell you we want to score five goals and then leave Robin van Persie out.

“We will not accept going out of the Champions League because we want to stay in. We will give it our best shot tomorrow.”

And quite right too. Rolling over and dying in the very competition that we are on the other hand trying to fight tooth and nail to qualify for again next season is not an option. And look, I’m not saying we must go out there and win tonight. This is AC Milan we’re playing and we’ve got no option but to go hell for leather to put some goals past them. There is every chance they will catch us on the counter and score some goals. What we do have to do though, is go out there and give them the best game we possibly can. Our fans need to get right behind the team, Arsenal have to show the world, and show ourselves that we are not a club that gives up in the biggest match of the season against the best of opposition.

I have loved Arsenal being in the Champions League every year. I remember when we won the league under Arsene Wenger for the first time, not only was it our first title in my time as a fan (I a bit too young/hadn’t really gotten into football in 1991) but I was so excited to see Arsenal play in that competition. The only major trophy we have never won. We have had memorable nights, we’ve had glory, we’ve had bitter disappointment and through it all we have seen Arsenal play their hearts out right up until a few weeks ago in the San Siro. We cannot let that be the image of Arsenal in the Champions League that is remembered.

We’ve done really well in the Premier League to get ourselves back into the top four. We’ve got a great chance of being back in this competition next season and we’ve got a great chance of knocking Spurs back down where they belong underneath us in the table. We’ve got a lot to play for, and a lot of reasons to be confident but it is in the balance. The fact is that it is not inconceivable that when it’s all said and done, we’ll be the ones without a chair when the music stops.

If that were to happen, and this year we don’t qualify for the Champions League then what do we want to look back on? A meek surrender, or going out guns blazing? Giving up, or standing defiant to the last? I know what I’d pick. And if this is it, if this is where all these years of Champions League football ends, then let’s make it a good one. Let’s make it a night in the finest traditions of our club in this competition. Let’s make it a night where we sang loudly and played like The Arsenal. Let’s give AC Milan the fight of their lives, and let’s wake up tomorrow with our pride restored.


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  • shrek2be  On 06/03/2012 at 6:16 am

    I am more nervous about any further injuries ….

    • Leper Messiah  On 06/03/2012 at 6:20 am

      It’s not the time to worry about that, resting players would be akin to throwing in the towel and that would be worse than any injury.

  • Michael Sheehy  On 06/03/2012 at 2:24 pm

    Rousing stuff and a very enjoyable read. Let’s hope the players show the pride that was sadly missing in Milan and do the shirt proud.

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