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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Arsenal v Milan: The Istanbul-esque Miracle than Never Was



Back in 2005, a certain Italian team was on the wrong side of one of the greatest, most epic Champions League comebacks of all time. The venue was the Atartuk Stadium, Istanbul and the opposition was English.

On Wednesday night, almost the same scenario was repeated. It pitted the same Italian team but a different English opposition and at a different venue. Who can forget the 2005 Champions League final when Liverpool came from 3-0 down at half time to draw 3-3 with AC Milan and eventually triumph in post-match penalties?

Well, Arsenal tried to do the same. The difference is they hard to reverse a 4-0 deficit against the same opposition, but unlike Liverpool who had 45 minutes to do it, the Gunners had 90minutes and were also in front of their home crowd.

Could we see a déjà vu?

Heading into the encounter, Arsene Wenger said “Maybe I will play six strikers because we need to score lots of goals!”. Well, he took the risk and fielded a strongly offensive line-up that had Van Persie, two pure amalgams of speed in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Theo Walcott, the tricky Gervinho and my man-of-the match Tomas Rosicky. But it took a defender, Laurent Koscielny, to give Wenger’s men the perfect start, with the French international heading the North Londoners in front with just 7 minutes on the clock.

By the 43rd minute, Arsenal had put three beyond the Milan defence. After Koscienly’s header, Tomas Rosicky capitulated on some poor defending from Thiago Silva in the 26th minute to double the lead, and Robin Van Persie slotted in a penalty in the 43rd minute for the third after Chamberlin had been sandwiched in the box.

 3-0 heading into the interval. Sounds familiar? The seemingly impossible was just a goal away from being conquered.

The half time talk by the managers must have seen Wenger encourage his soldiers to soldier on with the same tempo as the first half (I guess this is the talk the then Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti gave his team in 2005 against Liverpool), while the current Rossoneri coach Massimilliano Allegri must have given his charges the talk of their season.

As it turned out though, Arsenal players had worked their socks off and probably usurped all their energy. They lacked enough firepower to add a goal more which could have sent the game into extra time, or even add two to kill off Milan.

The second half had another Istanbul-esque moment when Milan keeper Christian Abbiati made a stunning save from point blank range to deny Van Persie. Does it remind you of a certain Jerzy Dudek save against Andriy Shevchenko in 2005? I bet it does if you saw it, if you didn’t, see it here

The Arsenal-Milan match might as well be called the Istanbul-esque miracle that never was. But as much as Arsenal were brave and almost pulled a miracle, let’s not be swayed into forgetting their horror show in Milan two weeks ago. They deserved to be kicked out of the competition after they gave themselves too much to do from the first leg and it could have been cruel for the seven-time Champions League winners had they gave the competition a bye.

For the Gunners, the trophy drought enters another season and getting back to the Champions League is barely guaranteed.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!