By Chris Harris
A missed opportunity or a step in the right direction? The significance of Arsenal's 0-0 draw against Milan a fortnight ago will finally become clear as tonight's decisive leg unfolds in the San Siro.
Arsène Wenger's team have a history of heroics in that very stadium, thrashing Internazionale 5-1 just over four years ago, but Milan are a different kettle of fish. In European terms Carlo Ancelotti's team have been there, done that and got the winners' medals.
Milan have floundered in Serie A this season but they struggled domestically last season too and still went on to win the Champions League. Manchester United were brushed aside during that campaign; Arsenal will have to be at their very best to avoid a similar fate.
We caught up with Gabriele Marcotti of leading Italian sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport ahead of tonight's big game. Read on for his verdict on the first leg, the threat of Emmanuel Adebayor, the absence of Clarence Seedorf and Milan's likely tactics at the San Siro.
Gabriele, as expected it was an intriguing, tactical first leg. What did you make of it?
"I had the opportunity to spend some time with [former Milan and Italy manager] Arrigo Sacchi at the game and he's a huge admirer of the way Arsenal play. He said that the difference was down to one thing - experience. If Milan had won the ball in the opposing half as many times as Arsenal had, they could have scored a couple of goals. In Sacchi's opinion it was unusual to see a side have as much supremacy as Arsenal had and come away from it without scoring. I would tend to agree with him."
What was the reaction among the Milan players? Did they feel they had got away with it?
"Milan are a consummate team when it comes to European Cup football and they felt that, possibly with the exception of the Adebayor chance in stoppage time, they weren't in danger that often. They felt that, despite not being at their best, they carved out a few chances themselves. Milan could have lived with a 1-0 defeat and they would still have felt very confident that they could turn it around at the San Siro."
Do Milan perceive Adebayor as Arsenal's main threat?
"I think it's hard not to given the fact that there's no sign of Van Persie and Eduardo is out. Milan are very aware of him just as they are very aware of the role Theo Walcott could play, should he come on or indeed should he start. I think Adebayor has certainly gained a lot of admirers this season. He's a difficult player to play against, he has good movement and intelligence. The only thing with Adebayor compared to the guy who was up front before - a certain Thierry Henry - is that maybe Adebayor needs service. Milan feel that he is not going to create something out of nothing the way Henry might have. So with Adebayor the difference is that you have to be more mindful of cutting off the service to him because he might not invent something on his own."
How do you expect Milan to line up?
"I think Seedorf is going to be the main absentee with the possible exception of Ronaldo, but who knows when we'll see him again. My understanding is that Milan will revert to the 4-3-1-2 system. Without Seedorf they will want a little extra muscle in midfield so I expect Milan to play a tight midfield three of Gattuso, Ambrosini and Pirlo and then play Kaka between two strikers. One of them will be Pato and the word is that Inzaghi will start too. No one has scored more goals than Inzaghi in European competition and he has a knack for turning up with the big goal on European nights. Nobody can quite figure out how he does it because he's not the most aesthetically pleasing player himself, but his numbers speak for themselves. Milan will be hoping he can create against Arsenal, especially with Kolo Toure ruled out."
For Milan is it a balancing act between chasing a goal and denying space for Arsenal on the counter-attack?
"That's a fair point but the only thing I would say is that Milan are not a calculating side, especially at home in Europe. I think they will go forward and go for it. They probably feel that if Arsenal score they will have to go and score one more. Ancelotti drew a parallel to last season when Milan played Celtic. They drew the first leg at Parkhead 0-0 and then went forward the whole game in the San Siro. They didn't create many chances - Celtic defended very well - but eventually Milan got through in extra time with a late Kaka goal. Celtic were unlucky. I think to some degree you might see a repeat of that. It doesn't do Milan any good to sit back and worry about Arsenal's counter-attack too much because when you start thinking like that you can get into trouble. Also, this is not a team built to play on the old defend-and-counter, they are built to play the ball to feet and come forward. It will be difficult to change their style."
Finally Gabriele, what's your prediction?
"Having got it wrong so many times... I'm going to go with Milan for one reason. Robin van Persie is not ready to start and I think Arsenal lose a lot of options up front when he's not there. I also think they lose a lot in terms of leadership without Kolo Toure in defence. I think Milan can weather the absence of Seedorf much better and maybe that will make the difference on the night."Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 3 Mar 2008