Woody Woodpecker: Milan’s Stephan Al Shaarawy could take a peck at Arsenal
Champions League, 1st Leg: AC Milan vs Arsenal at the San Siro @ 2:45 EST
Three positions where the Gunners face unpredictability are at left back, attacking midfield, and down the wings.
Left back: The most vexing decision is at left back where Wenger has Kieran Gibbs available after months away with an injury. But he is desperately short of match practice. Do you risk exposing him in such a big encounter without him playing a single minute? Thomas Vermaelen has been filling in and has done a decent job but due to Per Mertesacker’s injury should relocate to centre back pairing up with Kos after months of being a stand in that position. Wenger could also plug Frances Coquelin who has shown his adaptability in his appearances as left back surrogate. Or he could pair Djourou with Kos and keep Vermaelen at left back.
Attacking midfield: Aaron Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky? Or both? Rosicky has shown an improvement with his attacking intent and mobility. There is undeniable progression to the box with him on the ball. But for all his good protection his passing is just not refined enough and he cannot shoot for the love of money. Ramsey is less assured with a tendency for the attack to fizzle out when he’s on the ball but he’s shown to be a better goalscorer. The other option is to do what happened at Sunderland, rotate Song to centre back after Mertesacker’s injury and introduce Ramsey alongside Tomas Rosicky. Arteta would anchor the holding midfield position in a continuing evolution for the Spaniard from his Everton days.
At the wings: Ox’s recent performances and Gervinho’s ACN absence should make this an easy choice. But Wenger could also go for the unlikely choice of giving Andrey Arshavin a start. It won’t happen. Ox down the left and Walcott down the right as bookends to Van Persie.
Arsenal have a good record against Milan having beaten them most recently at the San Siro in 2008 with Fabregas and Adebayor scoring goals. But as pointed out by many and Wenger too, these are different circumstances with a team that is still seeking out self assurance with a side that only has Walcott and RVP as holdovers from that Milan win. On their part, Milan although sitting on top of the Serie, is also going through some similar soul searching. Their suave style has given way to a functionality that has proven effective if boring. Or as Allegri most succinctly put it:
“You can’t always dine on lobster and caviar. Every now and again you have to be satisfied with a ham sandwich.”
They just righted the ship beating Udinese this weekend after earning a draw against Napoli preceded by a defeat at Lazio. Allegri also indicated he will have Alexandre Pato and Kevin Prince Boateng ready to play some minutes after their injury time off. In store, the dangerous Stephan El Shaarawy, as the impact man off the bench, who scored the Udinese winner. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their target man, has been quite lethal with his legs and his hands. Allegri has veteran Clarence Seedorf, a proven big time goal scorer, and Mark Van Bommel, his dreaded enforcer going up against national compatriot RVP. Bommel’s role will be simple: Disrupt Arsenal’s passing flow.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Coquelin, Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Ox, Walcott, RVP.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 Milan 1