With a mere two days' rest after absconding from Anfield with three points, Arsenal face a bristling AC Milan side in North London with tired legs and a depleted midfield, not to mention a 4-0 deficit from the opening leg of the tie. The Gunners will look to write European history in erasing that difference, as it has happened only thrice in UEFA competition. The task is improbable, but depending on fitness and selection, not impossible.
First, though, let's go over what we know:
Midfielders are in short supply for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta is recovering from being KO'ed by
dirty thugLiverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, Abou Diaby is injured (SHOCK ALERT), Aaron Ramsey is still out and Yossi Benayoun picked up a hamstring problem. Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere are long term candidates with Coquelin coming back at the end of the month and Wilshere at the end of the season. Emmanuel Frimpong is Frimpong'ed. Tomas Rosicky is nursing an injury, as is left back Kieran Gibbs. Johan Djourou could be back, and he played in midfield before. So, there's that.
So Arsenal have no midfield. AC Milan have quite a good midfield, even though they're without Kevin-Prince Boateng. Their midfield is better than Arsenal's midfield. It's full of energy, a great ability to press and harry our midfield. It might not possess our creativity, but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they don't need to. The last time Ibrahimovic came up against Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, he destroyed them. Perhaps they'll do better, but two strikers have still troubled them, as evidenced by the first half against Tottenham and the whole match against Liverpool.
Could Arsenal score 4 or 5 goals? It's not out of the realm of reality. Robin van Persie is quite good, Arsene Wenger will be forced to play wingers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a central role. Arsenal could outpace AC Milan in the wide areas, and The Ox could get away from Mark van Bommel. Arsene Wenger could also play Marouane Chamakh who could go all 2010 on us and score from Bacary Sagna crosses. That has as much chance as happening as Arsenal winning by enough to go through does. Because, who are we kidding. Arsenal aren't going to win by 5 tomorrow. They're just not. Arsenal have won by 4 or more goals twice this season, against Wigan, in December, and against Blackburn last month. Combined, those teams have less points than we do. They're both terrible defensive teams, combining to give up over 2 goals a game. Neither would be top of Serie A; neither would've held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou (it'd be like 9-1). AC Milan give up less than one goal a game. Even if they play horribly and give up 4 or 5 goals, they're bound to score. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will create problems; so will Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy. Arsenal are not a great team, defensively. We get troubled on the counter attack, especially by direct play, which Milan do really well.
I don't want to have this attitude; trust me, I wish I could believe that Arsenal could come back and score 8 goals or something. But I also want to be reasonable. Arsenal have no midfield left, and are very weary after many of our players have played 3 games in 6 days. Thomas already went over why we shouldn't play our first team; I agree with him whole-heartedly. Even if we win but don't go through, who's going to care? Potential signings? No. Our own players? They might have some pride restored, but it's not going to change a lot. Arsenal have too many injuries and players being nursed through injury to worry about this game. Give Robin van Persie a nice 9 day break. Give Alex Song that break, and Laurent Koscielny, and Vermaelen and Sagna and Song. Play Park. Who knows, the kids could do something. But we won't, because Arsene Wenger wants to restore pride. Or maybe he'll have a good think about it, and will out psyche Milan into playing backups or something, and then he'll play Park. And then this will happen:
(Park 10', 23', 26', 37', 90+4'; van Persie 69')
AC Milan 1