Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Milan

The Champions League is back and it’s returned with a special fixture. Milan V Arsenal is arguably the cream of the second round ties. Aging giants in the process of transforming themselves to prove they aren’t just heroes from the past meet a resurgent, fairly youthful side that is still looking to make its mark at the highest level.

In theory, this should be a straightforward win for Arsenal. Milan have only won 4 of their last 19 games in the Champions League. A couple of those victories came in the group phase at home this season against BATE Borisov and ViKtoria Plzen. The other two came in the group phase last season at home and away to AJ Auxerre. Nothing really special there. The hosts have also been knocked out at this stage by English sides on the past three occasions they’ve played in the competition. That includes the 07/08 loss against Arsenal, who also happen to have a 100 percent record at the San Siro.

In contrast, Arsenal came very close to knocking Barcelona out last season and topped their group with a game to spare this time around. They also beat Udinese, who aren’t that far away from Milan in the Serie A table, home and away in the qualifying phase earlier in the season.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side are also coming into this fixture on the back of just one win in four, and that too a rather unconvincing one over Udinese that came on the back of a couple of late counter-attacks with the League leaders failing to create much of note otherwise.

Arsenal, on the other hand, seem to have turned the poor start to the year around with two different but massive wins.

In real life though, such details don’t always matter. The Italian giants have a wealth of experience at their disposal with many players well-qualified to write textbooks on various tactical and technical aspects of the game. They have strikers capable of pouncing on any mistakes from the opposition and scoring in the blink of an eye. Defensively, they remain as resilient as ever.

Tactically, this is likely to be an intense midfield battle. Both sides have players who can keep the ball and move it around. Both will also be vary of the other’s attacking threats. We might see a cat-and-mouse game where the midfields stick close to the defence and bide their time.

It will be interesting to see the personnel Allegri picks in his starting eleven. Their midfield diamond could crowd out the Arsenal trio if they get it right, and this could lead to chances for their strikers, probably Ibrahimovic and Robinho.

But that narrow-ish midfield could also leave room for Arsenal’s pacy wide players who can make life hard for any full-back who doesn’t get enough support from his teammates. I expect Milan to start cautiously and play a conservative game in the opening  45. After they suss Arsenal out, and if the scores are level, the hosts could look at introducing an additional attacker or two. The most favourable result for the home side is a 1-0 (or 2-0) win and I’ll be surprised if they go for anything else.

That doesn’t mean they can’t score more, or less for that matter. A lot will also depend on the way Arsenal approach this game. I would like to see the pragmatic and dogged style that worked for the Gunners in the group phase against the likes of Dortmund and Marseille. Wenger’s men can keep a clean sheet if they don’t make very basic errors or get caught in panic mode when put under pressure, especially late in the game.

Essentially, the midfield must not be too ambitious and the players should be comfortable in making numerous safe passes in the central third with the hope of creating some space for the wingers. Full-backs could overlap but it would be unwise to leave the central defenders alone against the two strikers. Song will have to remain deeper and curb the Songinho instincts. Arteta too will have to put in his usual, solid defensive shift. This might be the most high profile game of his career thus far and the Spaniard’s performance can be the clincher for Arsenal, not in terms of breathtaking flair but from a control and composure point of view.

I don’t expect too many surprises in the starting line-up. Wenger has already said that he will put Vermaelen back in the middle, a role the Belgian prefers. Sagna is a guaranteed starter, unless there’s a mishap right before the kick-off. So Wenger just has to pick the right permutation at full-back. He could start Gibbs at left-back but the youngster hasn’t had any match practice for a long time so that would be a huge risk in my opinion. Wenger could also pick Coquelin at left-back. The French lad has impressed in the limited time he’s got but that position is really unknown to him and he will make mistakes there, no doubt.

The other options are to pick either Coquelin or Djourou at right-back and move Sagna to the left. But that option weakens both flanks to an extent.

I’d go with Coquelin at left-back. Milan’s tricky and quick players – Robinho, El Shaarawy, and Pato – are all right-footed so they probably won’t trouble Le Coq as much while cutting in from the Right flank.

Preferred line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Coquelin – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Some would suggest picking a more experienced and creative player like Arshavin for this game. Wenger might also go with Ramsey if he thinks the youngster’s had a good, refreshing break and is closer to his best. The Welshman will definitely offer a greater work rate than Little Mozart who will provide better technical and incisive qualities.

Arsenal central defenders will have to be extremely vigilant against Milan’s strikers. Both Koscielny and Vermaelen are aggressive defenders and could be in trouble against the movement and strength of Ibra or the runs of Robinho.

Wenger’s choice of positional play will also have an impact on this game. If the Gunners push high up the pitch and press the opponents in their half, it could leave vast spaces for them to exploit on the break. But dropping deep and inviting a dominant, lethal striker like Ibrahimovic into one’s penalty box isn’t a clever approach by any means.

Arsene and his players will have to find a balance. Arsenal would do well to play a compact game just inside their own half. Milan don’t really have the pace to get in behind with ease. But they do have players capable of finding exceptional balls in behind. The Gunners will have to track the runs diligently or they could end up chasing the game against a side that is well and truly capable of holding on to a lead, or even increasing it from a counter-attack.

The visitors’ biggest threat will come from the pace out wide and the form of Van Persie. Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn’t always shown he knows what the right positions to take or the correct decisions to make are. This will be the youngster’s biggest tactical test to date, if he is picked in the starting line-up.

Walcott has the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong once again. But don’t expect too much from him. If the midfield does indeed adopt a cautious style, Theo will get little support and will be fighting an uphill battle against a well-drilled defence.

Ultimately, such games, when both sides play well, aren’t about too many chances or thrilling end-to-end football. They’re about holding fort till you find the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow. Arsenal can do it if they produce the perfect game. Will they? Well, you tell me!

36 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Milan

  1. paijo aja says:

    in san siro…!!!




    walcot/arsha….van the man….AOC/TH 12

    for me….1-2 for gunner..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Dhruv says:

      I prefer Gibbs as LB for this match. He is good going forward and does put in good crosses. Gibbs can provide an attacking outlet on the left. Coq for next match.

  2. kay says:

    Desi, i expect this game to be tough for both sides. I don’t think it will be a good idea to start Gibbs in this game due to lack of match practice. So Coguelin and Sagna should occupy the full-backs positions while Ramsey should come in instead of Rosicky. I hope we will win this game to reduce the pressure in the second leg. Guns Out!

  3. arsman says:

    i go 4 arsenal win

  4. FoolishgooNer says:

    I think the Gunners will be up for this game… O think the line up is good! Much will depend on how Milan do against our pace and our mistakes defensively. Everyone is praising Arshavin’s cross for Henry last game… Arshavin can do that every game but we don’t have players who can and will get between the six yard line and the keeper. Well ofcourse except the king…. I say 3:2 to Arsenal! Come on you beautiful bastards!

    • JJ Pittman says:

      I would start Arshavin and Henry. Better chance of prying them open while they sit deep. Get all we can out of Titi before he leaves for NY. AA’s cleverness more important than AOC or TW pace. Bring one of them on for AA later and bring RvP on for TH. Like Coq on the left or as an early sub for Gibbs.

  5. abdiqadir says:

    arsenal 3 AC milan 1 ox goal 13minutes rvp and theo wolcot nex half

  6. Emmanuelson deji says:

    Wenger has all d tactics n xperienc 2 bit any italian team. Scz. Sag-kos-verm-coq. Song-ros-art. Walcot-rvp-arsh. Go gunnarz,kill d game off right there in san siro.its 0-2.

  7. Olatanimola says:

    Arsenal will beat Ac.milla at sansiro stadium

  8. Ziggy says:

    D gunas can do it again

  9. kenyangooner says:

    i would also employ the same starting line. but i feel we shouldnt be playing inside our own half. Milan dont fair well when teams take the game to them at the san siro, so i would like to see the same attacking free flow of football we have come to love from the Arsenal. if we are able to control the game from the midfield it would be a good opportunity to get the wingers opening all valves running at the aging defence. as Taiwo said, we must take the game to them, we will be foolish not to use that inider information to our benefit.

    i follow back @len_ambaka

  10. Yes we will win no matter what…. Up Gunners

  11. VanTheManPersie says:

    I heard wenger say gibbs is physically and mentally ready. I wont be surprised if he atleast plays some part in this game. If not from the start then atleast 20 min in the second half. He might go for ramsey’s work rate over Rozza this time. There will b some chances as asenal will create something and it all about conversion. I expect a 1-1 draw which will set up the return leg nicely. Massacre’s injury a cruel blow , just when we had the flexibilty. We still have to play stoke away(altho ppl say he doesnt win more headers, he was great against the throw ins at the emirates against them). Here’s hoping for a 0-1 arsenal win

  12. Beewai says:

    Up gonas! It’s goin 2 b a tough test for both team bt i see arsenal progresin 2 d next round

  13. Timmy says:

    It seems like Ramsey will be better in this match over Rosicky for these reasons
    1. Though Rosicky can hold hold the ball very well, Ramsey seems to have a better Pass accuracy in the final third,
    2. Though Ramsey seems to lack impressive success rate in front of goal, however he has a knack for getting in good positions for goals, something Rosicky isn’t that good at
    3. Very high work rate

    For these reason the starting line up will be better like this

    Sagna Kozza Vermalean Coquelin/Gibbs




    Walcott Oxlade-chamberlain
    Van Persie

    • Dhruv says:

      So why Ramsey cannot be introduced as a substitute later in the game? I think Rosicky is doing well and ideally should start. The only question is can he fit for his second game in 3 days? Lets see.

      • Lizzie says:

        It also always seems when ramsey comes on as as sub he plays better and he has also scored 2 of his last 4 goals coming on as a sub, i think

    • jeff says:

      Ramsey doesn’t have a better pass compared to Rosicky.. If tomas does have more unsuccessful rate of pass,it’s mainly because he often makes risky yet needed throughballs.. As far as I like ramsey work rate,I can’t see him winning our possesion back.. That for me is a big problem.. OTOH, rosicky,although he migh not travel as far as ramsey (none of arsenal players can match ramsey’s) ,he’s not afraid to make his signature tacklings and close the opponent down.. So,I always prefer rosicky over ramsey.. Rosicky posses a better technique,and more importantly arsenal needs his vision n creative thinking..

  14. Dhruv says:

    Walcott should be important in this game, he can show to the old milanese team what speed can do. With Sagna available as cover, Walcott has the license to attack at will.

    Rosicky is more experienced campaigner and I would prefer him inplace of Ramsey but fitness is an issue.

    I also think instead of Ox, Arsene could/should play Yossi or Arshavin, the experienced guys will do better under adverse conditions in San Siro.

    Finally looking forward to another great performance by Kos to nullify Ibra and Robinho. If Kos was able to handle Messi, he should do fine with the Milan forwards.

  15. john says:

    ARENAL is more dangerous in attacking than defensive game.
    must start with the players below-


    sagna cosnely vermaleen coquelin

    song arteta

    walcot rosicky henry

    van persie

  16. i supposed that the tactic is nice and can bring a win over milan.however it is better gibbs off for this leg c/s of ……….and rososcky is better over the ramsey in controlling the ball and for accurate passing.i wish a win for arsenal wiz 3-1and rvp wiil score the 1st goal at 19 min, walcott and oxlade chamberlin in the 2nd half.

  17. Talent says:

    Arsenal is going to win the match in the san siro arsenal win the champion league this season

  18. Omar Riaz says:

    I think Arsenal has to do some work for midfield as they can easily be outnumbered over there and if they get outnumbered then expect pressure on the defense. I would tell Van Persie to drop deep and try to take Thiago Silva out of the position and then Walcott and Ox both of them who have excellent running abilities can exploit the space and gap opened. Milan will attack and in an honest point of view Milan will score but this doesn’t mean Arsenal won’t score!
    Dropping Van Persie deep will make space for wingers to exploit and even Ramsey to run into the channels. Another thing which Desi pointed out, play Le Coq in lb position as we all know that they don’t have any left footed player so when they’ll cut inside Le Coq will easily stop them!

  19. pontus says:

    It’ll be a tough game but if we can take the game to them and keep up a decent tempo we can win it. Good post in general, however I would say that Mozart’s work rate is really good these days. He wins the ball back a lot. His only big problem is scoring.
    I’m Swedish so I know what needs to be done to defend against Ibra. Stay tight and try to force him to sink deep to collect the ball. That’ll frustrate him.

  20. solomon says:

    Wenger should go for experience players if he want us to win,i suggest Henry is a great player with cl experience.i admire when he start along with RVP and walcot on attack,then a strong midfield roscisky for Rambo.and defence Gibs and sagna to start.the best thing we should do is to concertrate on defence.we go for a win but a draw is still okay so that we overcome them when we play at Emirate.we need to frustrate them by showing our usual speed is Key player on defence so he must improve in his quickness.and try to pass the ball to our attacks the likes of RVP. A WIN 2-1 Will be a very good results.

  21. terry says:

    coquellen kozzer vermy gibbs
    arteta song rosicky
    walcott RVP AOC

    coquellen gets the best out of walcott…
    i prefer him at right back.. and ya gibbs and AOC on the wings could be the next english left sided combo.

  22. Kellyfrings says:

    Arsenal winin d game dpndz on hw we aproach d game. Wot is xperience witout strength?… We dnt play dead woods cos they played wel in dia last game. To me, walcott z a minus in dis game. He makes nonsense decisions wit d bal, i would bench him. Arsenal wil b outplayed if they play lyks of arshavin, vp nd walcot upfrnt. Arsh z nt gud in holdn d bal nd hiz decision mkn z too poor, walcot z pacy, yes, bt z useles wen he faces a tough defnce. Play song, ramsey nd arteta in d midfield. Ramsey z our main weapon in d midfield, his wrk rate z unblvable as he wont make it easy for milan in d midfield. Song shld drop deep wyl art shld b versatile in midfield as usual. Play sagna, kos, verm nd gibbs at d back. Upfrnt, we shld play ox, vp nd walcott, m listn walcot cos d’aint anyoda alternative, bt as d game goes on he nd d ox cn switch play. Cnfidence z d main thing. 0 2, in favour of us. Go go go gunnerz!

  23. JB212 says:

    Tomorrow’s game is going to be difficult no two ways about it, but as a Gooner I fully believe we have enough about us to over come this Italian Job.

    Wenger needs to rest Gibbs for the weekend against Sunderland, this isn’t the time to try him out. With that said I expect Coquelin to come in as a fullback/wingback on either flank depending on whether Wenger decides to move to Sagna to the left to accommodate the young French man.

    I also expect Rosicky to start due to the pace he plays at/moves the ball, his ability to create space for himself, dynamic dribbling and his ball winning skills, also the midfield will be more open for him to find passes unlike the Sunderland one which was like two prison blocks)
    ——————-van Persie———————

  24. bayuboy says:

    i think the best starting xi to use for ac milan is=
    back…sagna,vamalin,koscly and coqlin
    forward…..walcott,charmbalain and rvp
    goal kipa….sheeny..this absolutely the best we can use to defeat the ac milans

  25. cupsui says:

    I’ll have to disagree a bit in that if gibbs can’t go sagna should go to the left and le coq on the right. Sagna has shown he can play well on the left whlst le coq has been strong esp recently at RB. Le coq is too out of position at LB and its too bg a risk! But hopefully gibbs is fit, strong and mentally ready and doesn’t breakdown.

    Otherwise i think rosicky is the starter in midfield as controlling the ball is key, Arsenal will want to frustrate milan and no better way than controlling possession. so Lil’ mozart in! Ramsey to come off bench as well as titi, with the ox in, i got a feeling we gonna see something special from the ox tonight.

    2-1 gooner win!

  26. Nepali Gunner says:

    I am getting really excited about this match, and even though I won’t be able to watch it at work, I will be following the live commentary very closely.

    For full back, Coquelin will be the better choice, as he is solid defensively and is match fit. I would really be careful with Gibbs.

    Midfield, I would go with Rosicky because he is playing well, and also we need his possession and creativity. He does release players well.

    And OX and Theo definitely to start. Speed will be a big weapon in thise game, particularly with Zambrotta in the side.

    Overall, a draw would be a great result. A win would be fantastic. However, I am nervous because they have a potent strike partnership. I would play it pragmatically, asking Sagna and Coquelin to hold back, and using Theo and OX’s pace as the primary attacking means. I think Milan will work very hard to nullify RVP’s threat, so we need our wingers to be on top of their game. I see us scoring on the counter, so OX and Theo are important. I wish Gervinho was available too, because he does create space.

    I am optimistically hoping for a 2-1 win, but as some others mention, 1-1 seems like a likely result. Problem is Arsenal have been inconsistent, so it really is difficult to predict anything.

  27. TT says:

    Save Gibbs for FA Cup against Sunderland, although it would be scary if Gibbs has to run on the same quality pitch as last Saturday.

  28. Chinke Chikezie says:

    A lot has been said about this match, right from the day the fixture was made and finally it’s here. I will like to say it’s going to be a great match. Never the less my preferred starting line up will be Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Coquelin – Song, Arteta, Rosicky – Chamberlain, RVP and Walcott, while having Djourou, Gibbs, Henry, Arshavin, Ramsey, Benayoun and Fabianski on the bench.
    I will like to say there is no need changing the style of play for an experienced team like this, it’s better to maintain consistency for the team to flow easily than to try ideas that might back fire. I will like to point out that AC Milan is not like the normal english teams that will pack there back and sit tight. A bunch of experienced side that believe so much in themselves playing slow passing game with a lot of space. Did i hear someone say “wow” like Arsenal will have a great day. Not so my fellow gunners, this Milan team with their style are always within reach of each other and they play cover for each other, that is why i believe that Arsenal needs to use their wide players to seperate and open them up. I strongly believe we need to push them all the way and don’t give them any room to get their game going and more especially focus on their left back which i believe is their weakest link. Their biggest threat will come from Robinho who has been a problem to Arsenal in his Man City days, but if Arsenal can push them all the way, press always and limit their time with the ball, Arsenal will surely have no problem with anybody. The most important thing for Arsenal to do is to always press them, close them up as fast as possible and don’t give them any room to operate.
    I predict a 3-0 or 3-1 if Arsenal scores in first half, or a 2-0 if the goals come in the second half.
    I wish them all the best.
    Cheers GUNNERS!

  29. GbG says:

    I am going to swim against the tide here. Don’t see Arsenal winning this one. Milan are too experienced and tactical for the Gunners. Walcott and the Ox will be isolated and dealt with. Van Persie will be tightly marked by Silva. The Gunners will struggle to retain the ball against the Milan midfield. Expect a couple of errors at the back. 2-0 or 2-1 for the home side. Said all that with a heavy heart. Just can’t see a different result. Don’t get your hopes up.

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