There isn’t much to analyze in such a game. Or you could say there is so much to analyze that one could write a book.
This wasn’t a great Milan side but it was tactically and technically far superior to Arsenal. It isn’t often that one sees a game where the opponent deserves a 4-0 win over Arsenal but in this one there could be few grudges, even if one of the goals was off-side (which I am not sure of anyway).
I’d heard that Milan had relayed the flanks on their pitch but wasn’t really aware of the extent of impact that would have until I actually saw the pitch just before the start of the game. It was clear Arsenal were not going to get much joy down the wings.
Tactically, this gave a massive advantage to the hosts who were happy to sit narrow in defence and midfield. They only used the width of the pitch to spread the play while attacking but most of their runs and counter-attacks came down the middle.
Arsenal, on the other hand, looked completely clueless against this approach. The ball couldn’t be played out wide with the kind of pace that would give them any advantage. It was hard for the players to run with it in the wide areas or to dribble as it kept wobbling. This allowed the defenders to stay deep and narrow, and they only went wide when Arsenal managed to get the ball to their wingers or full-backs in advanced areas.
Milan’s movement, composure on the ball in tight spaces, combination play, and finishing was all top class. Arsenal were structurally poor at the back, there were too many individual mistakes, the side looked nervous from the early moments, and couldn’t generate any kind of speed with their passing which allowed Milan sufficient time to drop back into a solid shape. Individually, the hosts were very strong on the ball when put under pressure whereas the Gunners were often rushed into hoofs or hopeful long passes. Their pressing was a lot more cohesive and the decision making of when to press and when to drop deep was flawless. Arsenal were patchy at best with their pressing and even the usually reliable players struggled with their decision making.
It’s interesting to note that Arsenal had more pace but it was Milan who were able to create more and dangerous counter-attacks. This was an issue with the shape of the team apart from the above mentioned ones like composure, combination play, and movement.
In short, Milan mastered the spaces on the pitch and made the best use of them. Their defending was compact and assured. Their attacks were quick and lethal. Arsenal couldn’t come to terms with the spaces on the pitch. Their attacks were slow and rudderless as they couldn’t use the wide areas and just didn’t have enough quality down the middle. The defending was disorganized, clumsy, and bordering on desperate.
The best way to understand this is by noting that Milan almost always had players in free spaces when they broke forward while they always had sufficient bodies back when defending. Arsenal rarely found spaces in attack, except in areas Milan were happy to concede, and were often stretched at the back when chasing the ball and opposition players.
The first goal was simple enough. Szczesny’s kick was poor as usual. There was no pressure on the ball and no one within yards of the Boateng’s run. His control and strike were superb. In contrast, Arsenal players never got that kind of space in the Milan box. It’s a structural problem that has troubled the Gunners for years now. Wenger has tried different approaches but he hasn’t got the answer to it.
The second goal looked off-side but it was disappointing to see the players switch off. They should have played to the whistle. Ibra or Robinho didn’t even have to try hard. That was a real shame.
The third again came with simple movement and passing on the edge of the box. A slip by Vermaelen opening space for Robinho but he should never have been that free in such a position. The Brazilian’s finish was very well placed and deserves credit.
For the final one Djourou is the obvious culprit for the penalty but again Arsenal had no answer to the movement of the Milan players as they were caught ball watching. Djourou was in a difficult position against Ibra who almost coaxed the foul from the defender.
For the neutrals and those who like to study the game there was a lot to learn from the way Milan played this game. It really did look like Men against Boys for a long while and I don’t say stuff like that lightly or after every defeat.
On a positive note, it was good to see Gibbs coming back and looking fit. He was playing well but I thought it was a good choice to take him off as he hasn’t had many games. Going out early in the Champions League could also work well for Arsenal in the League.
It was sad to see Koscielny hobbling off. Hope his injury isn’t too serious. Arsenal started with Vermaelen and Koscielny in the centre of defence but ended with Song and Djourou. None of the pairings looked solid so it really wasn’t about individuals but the availability of personnel will make a difference against smaller teams in domestic competitions.
I still think Arsenal can win the home game on a better pitch but there is no way they can match or better the goal difference.
When a team is outplayed and outthought to such an extent, it’s hard to judge the individual efforts because they’ve come in an inherently deficient system that forces a number of mistakes. It wasn’t a matter of chance that so many of the usually reliable players looked so poor in this game.
Szczesny: Had a poor game. Didn’t come for a number of balls that he should have come for. Looked very nervous on the ball and that seemed to spread to other players. Couldn’t have done much about most of the goals but can be questioned for the first one.
Sagna: Very disappointing. He didn’t have a clear man to mark but struggled against the movement and positioning of their strikers. His decision making and positioning was suspect. Wasn’t able to contribute much in attack, crosses were poor.
Koscielny: Struggled against the physical Ibrahimovic. Another one who couldn’t really deal with the movement of the Milan attackers. Should have been tighter on Boateng for the first goal as Arsenal clearly weren’t looking to put a midfielder to do the tracking.
Vermaelen: Lost a number of individual duels. Also struggled with his positioning as he couldn’t read the movement well. Wasn’t very comfortable on the ball and didn’t always make the right choices in terms of passing.
Gibbs: He was probably the only defender who wasn’t very bad. Was also looking to get forward but Arsenal rarely moved the ball at speed to find him in space.
Djourou: Poor tackle for the penalty but the position Arsenal got into was a right mess. Wasn’t very comfortable in that role but then who was.
Sagna, Szczesny, Vermaelen were all hugely disappointing. Koscielny wasn’t very good either. The defenders were exposed time and again, and the tactical approach left them in a difficult situations, but there were just too many individual mistakes all through the game.
Song: Offered little in terms of protection to the defence. Wasn’t very useful on the ball either.
Ramsey: Had a terrible game. Many of his passes didn’t come off. Didn’t get into good positions from an attacking or defensive point of view.
Arteta: Did ok with his safe passes but couldn’t offer anything more.
Rosicky: He had one or two good moments on the ball but his final pass was almost always over hit. Shooting was woeful. Still probably much better than the others.
Arsenal’s midfield was the biggest problem area. They left the defence exposed and the attack isolated as they ended up in a no man’s land far too often. Off the ball movement was terrible. Passing speed was pedestrian. Creativity non-existent. They didn’t read the game defensively and couldn’t effectively put pressure on the opponents when out of possession. As a result the Gunners were neither good at pressing cohesively, nor did they get into a solid defensive shape. Transitions were too easy for Milan and painstakingly tough for Arsenal.
Walcott: It was as if he wasn’t even on the pitch. Spent a lot of time deep in the Arsenal half when he should have been on the shoulder of the last defender when Milan pushed up. It’s another age old tactical issue that Arsene hasn’t been able to address.
RvP: Probably the only one who can walk away with his head held high. Work rate was excellent. Produced three shots on target of which two drew good saves and one was quite easy. Was never given any space in or around the box.
Henry: Had one flick that led to a chance for RvP and a couple of runs in the wide areas but a very limited effort from the departing legend.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Came on late in the game when Milan were content with sitting back so he got a lot of time on the ball. But the hosts doubled up on him when he got into dangerous areas and he couldn’t really do much with the ball except one cross to the back post that led to a Van Persie header.
The attacking players were always tightly marked when they got near the Milan box. The hosts gave no space to them and the slow tempo meant the defence was rarely, if ever, stretched. Personally, I don’t blame the attacking players too much as they just didn’t have enough time or space.
Wenger: While some of the individual efforts were awful, Arsene deserves most of the blame as the issues seen here were not new ones. Just a lot of them coming together once the state of the pitch made effective wing play virtually impossible. The Gunners just don’t know how to sit back and absorb pressure. They also don’t know how to use the pace at their disposal in a manner that can consistently cause problems. He deserves credit for trying different combinations and tactical variations but it just wasn’t good enough. I don’t think starting with Oxlade-Chamberlain would have made any difference but a stronger emphasis on keeping the ball and playing a more cohesive defensive system would probably have.Follow @goonerdesi