By Chris Harris
Don't be fooled by Milan's sluggish Serie A campaign. The European champions are most definitely cranking into gear for another assault on the Champions League. When it matters, Carlo Ancelotti's team tends to deliver.
A glance at Milan's cast list explains why. From back to front the Rossoneri are blessed with world-class talent from Nesta and Gattuso to Seedorf and Kaka. And if you thought they were too old, think again - Milan have a new generation of stars emerging, led by Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato.
Pato represents the future but, on Wednesday night, Arsenal fans can savour a symbol of Milan's past - Paolo Maldini. Few players in football history are respected as highly as the Italy legend and this could be Maldini's final appearance in England ahead of his summer retirement.
Maldini was one of many subjects which cropped up when we asked Gabriele Marcotti of Corriere dello Sport for an Italian perspective of Wednesday's game. Read on for his assessment of Milan, the special qualities of Kaka, where the first leg will be won and lost, and the admiration for Arsenal in Italy.
STORY SO FAR
"Ordinarily, the pattern over the last few years has been for Milan to start the season very slowly and hit top form in March and April. That said, you wonder whether they can repeat that year after year and whether it's really a reliable gameplan to follow. In a knockout situation though, they obviously have the experience and the ability. They have a guy who - for my money - is possibly the best defender in the world. That's Nesta. Then they have a guy who is probably one of the top two or three players in the world - Kaka. They have an excellent midfield, buoyed by a guy like Pirlo who has certainly proved himself. They feel that in a knockout competition they can hold their own against anybody. Where there have been issues is when they have to sustain it over 38 weeks in a league competition."
MEN OF THE MOMENT
"What makes Kaka so special is that he has all the Brazilian skills, he has the tricks and the flair, but he's also a very direct player. He's a very intelligent guy, he knows just when to give the ball first time, when to hold it up or maybe run at an opponent. He has an intelligence on the pitch which is uncanny. The other thing, and this seems to be the trend among great, skilled players, like Cristiano Ronaldo, he also has size, strength and athleticism.
"Maldini is pushing 40 and we can talk about how phenomenally fit he is and what a tremendous professional he is. It's his 22nd year in the top flight which is phenomenal, and even the fact that he's been a one-club man for so long is rare in modern football. At his age he doesn't play every week, he only plays the big games and he tries hard to keep fit. The one thing about Maldini is that he is very realistic about his ability. If he doesn't feel up to it, or if he feels that another guy can do a better job, he'll go to Carlo Ancelotti and tell him. That's a sign of great professionalism and putting the team first. He's not one of those older guys who feels that he's got to play because he's a living legend or because of his years of service. If he feels below 100 per cent he will always put the team ahead of his ego and that's one of the ingredients which has made him such a phenomenal player. "
"I think Ronaldo is a loss based on hypotheticals because he really hadn't played much this season. It's certainly very, very sad because this will be the umpteenth knee operation of his career. You feel bad for him because he would have represented added value for Milan. But he hasn't been a huge contributor this season. As for Milan's attacking options on Wednesday, Alexandre Pato has started his career very brightly but I suspect he and Filipo Inzaghi will not start the game. I think you will see Alberto Gillardino up front in a 4-3-2-1 formation with Kaka and Seedorf tucked in behind."
"I think if Milan play Gillardino on his own up front, it will be essential for him to be able to hold the ball up and give the team time to push up and time to breathe. Milan play a short-passing game, they commit a lot of people forward. They are not a defensive side, they are not a counter-attacking side, but because of that they need their front guy to hold it up for them. That will be crucial. At the same time, should Adebayor be on his own up front for Arsenal, Milan will have to retain the bulk of possession in midfield and that means Kaka and Seedorf will have to help out the tight midfield three of Gattuso, Pirlo and Ambrosini.
"I think Milan would rather score away from home. I get the sense that there are going to be goals in this game. It looks like Zeljko Kalac, Milan's No 2 goalkeeper who has kind of taken over from Dida, is unlikely to start, so Fiori will come in. He's 38 and has only started two games in the last seven years. So I think it will be an open game with a few goals. A good result for Milan will be a draw, but a scoring draw."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Many observers, including Claudio Ranieri, who is now the coach at Juventus, have said that Arsenal, along with Roma, play the best football in Europe. They play football the way it's supposed to be played. There is tremendous admiration for that in Italy and also for the work Arsène Wenger and his staff have done in bringing in young players from all over the world and making sure they fit into the 'Arsenal way' of doing things. Over the last two or three years it has become a blueprint for other clubs to follow and a lot of clubs have talked about following the Arsenal methods when it comes to scouting but the fact of the matter is that no one else has done it convincingly. Not many clubs have the courage to take 18 or 19-year-olds and throw them into the first team. There is a lot of admiration but there is also a lack of courage to go and emulate what Wenger and his people have done. There is tremendous curiosity out there and people want to watch attacking sides so there is no better place to be on Wednesday - the team which supposedly plays the best football in Europe against the reigning European champions."