Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against AC Milan

Do you like those what comes next kind of puzzles? Try this one.

0-2:5-2 | 1-0:1-2 | 4-0: ?

Tough one, eh!? Okay let’s make it easy. Here are the multiple choice options.

A) Miracle ; B) Pride restored but little else ; C) Complete Disaster ; D) Meh, bring on Newcastle

You know what, it’s still a tough one for me.

From a purely rational point of view, it’s tough to see Arsenal scoring 4 or more. They’ve done it in the last two home games in the League but this season’s Milan side is a different kettle of fish. Furthermore, the Gunners have only scored 7 goals in the seven Champions League games thus far (excluding the playoff). Throw the injuries into the mix alongside Milan’s defensive nous and formidable counter-attacking talents, and it’s really tough to imagine option A working out.

Some fans would, therefore, want to pick the last choice. Forget the result and get through this game without further injuries. Newcastle is more important. I have, on numerous occasions in the past, mentioned that Arsenal should drop out of the Cup competitions. So I don’t really have anything against such a scenario but Wenger is patently not willing to give up. It’s understandable that the coach and his players will at least want to play for pride, even if it’s not the most clever of choices.

Seems like I’ve used my 50-50 lifeline and narrowed it down to either B or C as the more realistic choices.

Most people, including the bookies, expect Arsenal to win this one. A large majority of fans, in my opinion, will be happy with a win. At least that way the Gunners will bow out with a degree of dignity. It will also sustain the positive momentum that the recent results have generated.

Then there is the threatening possibility of a complete disaster and it’s twofold. Without sufficient midfield cover, the defence could easily be exposed against world class attacking players who’ve already proved their abilities in the first leg. Arsenal could actually end up losing this one. Not only will it be disappointing on the night, such an adverse result could affect the morale of the squad for the final stretch of the season.

More than the result though, it’s the risk of losing even more players to soul-destroying injuries that has me worried. The challenge for fourth will be virtually impossible if the Gunners were to, God Forbid , lose Vermaelen or RvP for a few weeks.

Depending on your disposition then; you could either pray for a miracle, hope for a determined effort and a confidence-enhancing win, sweat over the catastrophic possibilities, or just forget about football till the weekend.

I am on the fence between B and C, which is a rather prickly place to be. It’s hard to explain but I can see it going both ways. Here are some of the options and likely patterns that come to mind.

1) Let The Ox Carry The Weight

Wenger has said that in the future Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a central midfielder. Injuries to virtually everyone who can play that role present Arsene this opportunity to try the youngster in that position.

The team could take something like the shape drawn above. The wide players will tuck in as often as possible allowing the full-backs to push on. Rosicky and Song would sit in front of the defence and keep the game ticking. The young Ox would have the biggest creative responsibilities – he would have to move between the lines, often receiving the ball with his back to the goal and then turning to bring other attackers into play, taking on defensive players when he has to, and making runs into the wide areas when the space opens up.

I won’t be surprised if this is a choice many fans find exciting but it doesn’t completely convince me. At the moment AOC is a talented youngster who thrives when he gets space to run with the ball and take opposition defenders on. But he hasn’t really shown an awareness of space that is needed for such a role. Often one can see he is caught ball-watching rather than reading the play and putting himself in a threatening position where he can receive the ball. Wider areas are not patrolled as heavily and he can get away with it even if his positioning is a bit off. Centrally, especially against this Milan side, he will be under tremendous pressure. Not only that, if he loses the ball in the middle of the Milan half it could easily expose the defenders to a rapid counter.

In such a case, Arsenal will also have three very similar direct players on the pitch who are all capable of losing the ball through a poor touch, a misplaced pass, or an ill-advised dribble attempt. Milan are a very competent technical unit, to put it mildly, and losing that battle could force Arsenal into chasing the ball more often than they’d like.

So such a choice is a big risk and could potentially be disastrous. But if Arsene takes this as a nothing to lose game and can provide limited but succinct instructions to the lad we could be in for an interesting game. He has skill on the ball and is quick. AOC is also energetic and largely fearless. He won’t be overawed by the occasion and could really unsettle Milan if he can sort his positioning and decision making out and/or gets a bit of luck.

Other players will have to carry their share of the burden no doubt. Song and Rosicky are the kind of players who can spread the ball around. The full-backs will have to go up and down the flank tirelessly and deliver balls into the box with a greater consistency and purpose. Theo and Gervinho will have to be on top of their games, constantly looking for runs down the inside channels or diagonally across the box. Van Persie just has to be himself.

2) Chamakh Attack

Sadly, these days that term is likely to evoke a chuckle from the opposition rather than a furrowed brow. The Moroccan has been out of form and out of favour. But he provides a different dynamic to the side, one that no other squad member can.

With Chamakh in a central position, possibly occupying Thiago Silva for large periods, RvP could get a free role around the box. Arsenal will have a target man in the box and if Arsene can extract his ability to link play, the Gunners could create combinations that trouble Milan.

Chamakh could use his aerial and physical abilities to be a goal threat, he could also drop out of the box occasionally to open space for the wide players and Van Persie to run into. RvP, Song, and Rosicky have the ability to find these runs. Chamakh could also use his aerial ability for knock-ons and lay-offs.

Such a system would demand a greater defensive shift from the full-backs as it would be counterproductive to put a defensive burden on Van Persie. It can work with one of the wingers staying wide when the other one cuts in. This way Arsenal can get bodies in the box without getting in each other’s way. It would also allow space for one full-back to push forward while the other holds a more conservative position.

The problem here is that Arsenal just haven’t deployed these tactics often enough. It’s hard to see the players getting it right without regular use. In that case the man inside the box will not get the kind of service he wants. RvP might not get into goal-scoring positions as often as he should when Arsenal need 4 goals or more. Defensively too, this is a more open system as the full-backs, even when they’re being conservative, will not be able to offer cover in the central areas where Milan are likely to have more bodies.

3) 3-4-3

Arsene could go for the unexpected here. The key for Le Boss, to put it in very simple terms, is to find the right balance between defence and attack. This involves getting the most out of his limited resources.

I am assuming Jenkinson is fit and ready for 90 minutes of full-throttle action. The unassuming youngster could just provide the perfect balance for the Gunners.

In this system, Arsenal will have three defenders against the two strikers that Milan usually use. That way they can provide cover and leave the midfielders with a relatively lesser defensive headache. Moreover, having two quick youngsters, who can think defensively, on the flank can work as an additional balancing measure as it would be easier for them to read the danger and drop back.

The front three will have to play right up against Milan’s back line but they will also have to be very intelligent with their movement. Van Persie can come deep more often in such a scenario as both the wide players will be in the inside channels and can cut across. They can also make runs between their respective full-backs and central defenders.

This approach is the most balanced one that I can think of. Most of the players will be in their natural roles or doing something very similar. Sagna is probably the only one who would have to put in a disciplined shift where he’d have to curb his instincts. But if anyone in this squad can, he can.

If Milan are sitting narrow and deep, or if they only have one striker, either Koscielny or Vermaelen can push up into the midfield. In fact, both can take turns depending on the shape of the opposition and the gaps on the pitch.

Once again the problem is that Arsenal haven’t used such an approach in the past. In theory it can all sound nice but one must also factor in the quality of the opposition and their ability to adapt their tactics. Milan have the ability to punish the Gunners with goals if the defensive play is out of sync. A change in system increases the probability of mistakes at the back due to lack of communication and/or contradicting choices being made by individuals at key moments.


Apart from the options discussed, Arsene could try some other tricks. For instance, he could play Park on the shoulder of the last defender. The Korean looks like a good finisher and some might say he will offer a bigger goal threat than Chamakh. Le Boss could also bring in a youngster like Ozyakup or Aneke but that is highly unlikely.

Wenger did mention that he is tempted by the option of playing AOC in the middle and also seems open to exploring other systems. Rosicky’s fitness will also have a say in the matter. But I don’t expect a major surprise as the options really are limited.

It will also be interesting to see the line-up and tactics that Max Allegri chooses. I will be surprised if he pushes his team high up. Looking for quick breaks, especially given their positional intelligence and ability to link at the top, seems like their best bet. But dropping too far back into their half could also be risky against this Arsenal side. They’ll also have to contend with a broader pitch than the one at home where the Gunners just couldn’t utilize the re-laid portion effectively. That means either his back four will be stretched or his midfielders will have to go wide. The diamond might not be the best shape in such a scenario. Allegri could, therefore, go for a 4-5-1/4-3-2-1.

Milan have some injury issues of their own. Seedorf and Boateng haven’t played since the win over Arsenal. Ambrosini is suspended. If these players are not available we might see a midfield three of Nocerino  – Van Bommel – Emanuelson in front of the defence with Robinho and El Shaarawy on the flanks. Zlatan would lead the line on his own with the speedy wingers looking to join at every opportunity.

I am still undecided between options B and C but in either case this will be a hard fought game. So it seems best to leave you, not with a prediction, but with this quote attributed to Khalil Gibran.

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother

PS: Over at EPL Index I did an analysis of some defensive variables. Did you know that all Premiership teams have a tackle success rate between 71 and 79 percent (not including the last weekend’s numbers)? Or that the number of interceptions per game doesn’t correlate with the defensive solidity (or weaknesses) that teams have displayed? I found the numbers surprising and interesting. It’s a members only post though, except the first few hundred words. In case you’re interested you can click here.

The charts in this post are made using the tool available on

32 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against AC Milan

  1. GbG says:

    Excellent post mate. 3-4-3 looks enticing but as you said, if Milan go with 5 in midfield Arsenal will need one more body there. Vermaelen should start along with Song as the second holding midfielder. Rosicky should push up to support RvP, That way the Verminator can also unleash his thunderous strikes from distance while Song is pulling the strings from deep.

    Jenkinson could have a tough time against Robinho but it’s a risk that has to be taken. Sagna hasn’t played in the centre of defence that often but most Gooners will surely place complete faith in him.

    Arsenal should play with a nothing to lose mindset. Even a loss will not derail this team they’ve shown the necessary mental toughness to bounce back.

    • santori says:


      OTOH as Desi mentioned, our main concern right now might have to be injury limitation…particularly in midfield.

      • Dhruv says:

        Yes, please leave Sagna out of this game and use the backups, Jenkinson or Yennaris. I am also not sure if Song could play effectively, he came back to training only on Friday and did well on Saturday when he was played.

        I know there is clearly lack of options with injuries and lack of quality backups. But some of the players who are tired from Saturday may not be their best, so preferably give some of the squad players a chance.

    • Gunne says:

      @GBG I agree with u completly. I won‘t give up till 90 min. We have nothing to loose afterall.

  2. Clyde says:

    4-4-2 maybe?theo 7 ronin upfront.ox & gervinho on the 7 rosicky in the middle.we dont need to play too much in the middle of the park.we just need to blaze those wings with blistering pace!!!show those old guys of milan what speed does.

    • santori says:

      Wingers with pace…that will entail us ceding space to draw them out which will in turn put our defense under pressure.

      Won’t be easy to say the least.

    • desigunner says:

      Yes 4-4-2 is also a good option but I see Van Persie dropping deep in that case with Walcott looking to get in behind. Otherwise the gaps in the middle might be just too big.

      Use of width will be important in this game but Arsenal aren’t particularly adept at the crossing game. So it has to be a clever use of the flanks rather than the get-it-out-wide-and-put-it-in-the-box routine.

  3. santori says:

    You’ve outdone yourself this time! Great graphics and seemingly no stone unturned.

    Except the possibility that even Rosicky may be unfit. In which case we may well see something rather ‘drastic’ from Wenger.

    4-1-5 anyone? 😀

    ……………………………………Back 4……………………………………
    …………………………..The amazing Song……………………………

    Needless to say, Song will need to step up his game a little.;)

    Personally I feel we had a chance if the team was fully fit.

    But with the midfield decimated :

    Arteta – Headache
    Rambo – Sabatical
    Rosicky – groin…too much whoring
    Diaby – injured again…again
    Jack – Waiting for end of season
    Frimpong – Fimponged
    Le Coq – Gone limp
    Arsharvin – Gulag

    ….well I would think it best served that we keep both eyes on the weekend game.

    However I think this will be anti-Wengerism and a disrespect to the ‘competition’ therefore I fully expect Wenger to get it hammer and tongs albeit with some sort of radical approach through lack of choice.

    My preferance would be RVP in the hole given free license to roam behind either of Chamakh or Park. I have a feeling Park may cause the greater damage (call it unknown factor but he has also been sharp in the reserve games). OTOH, Chamakh is the greater phscial menace and as we may expect Milan to park the bus, might be more sensible at first half at least.

    Hopefully Rosicky’s groin gets a good rub with the horse placenta ( done RVP’s ankles some good hasn’t it?)and is ready to gyrate tomorrow, albeit from the “deeper position”:D. Otherwise, short of the 4-1-5, we may have to call upon the kind service of young Ozyakup to harry and chase next to Song with the 4-2-3-1.

    Massive concern over injuries now. Midfield is truly a one man show at the moment.

  4. Aussie Jack says:

    This is a game for hero`s and no one know`s who that will be.

  5. Aussie Jack says:

    I`m for option number one Desi with one proviso. If the going gets tough interchange Ox with Song and let him become provider.

    • santori says:

      Well the only catastrophe scenario is if we carry injuries after the match.

      As far as most are concerned, we have already blothced the tie sot here is no pressure and anything can happen.

      But (midfield) injuries at this point is a grave concern particularly with wrapping 4th spot

  6. Bradster says:

    How about Miguel in the back with TV, Kos at DM and pushing Song up next to Rosicky if he plays. Play the 3-5-2 tactic we had against Tottenham in the second half. That 3rd mid will need to work if it’s between Gerv and AOC.

  7. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Desi, you are on it again, touching every area concerned, you’re such a great analyst. All the options looked useable, though it might come with mistakes but as well brings unpredictability of arsenal play into the game,causing the milan players a brain work to handle the change , this could give arsenal an edge of disbalancing them bearing in mind what our noisy neighbour did to them at WHL last season, knowing that emirates is more deadly than WHL, uncertainty might creep into the milans’ team and that could give us an edge to take the bull by the horn. I know, even if we were to go down, we will go down fighting. If we are down by another 4-0 fighting, i will be cheering the team on, but if we are down 1-0 again without fighting, i will just wait for the game to come off and switch focus to next game. Cant wait to see the unfold.

  8. yobra-Kenya says:

    Good post mate! i think i like 3-4-3 for this game i,m sure sagna will do a good job in or out of position. all that we need for this game is speed, perfect passing game and classy finishing and i have no doubt we are capable of doing just that unless we have a bad day that any other team can have, that is natural.

    In the formation Walcott should then play on the blind side of the defence same as as Gervinho and/or Ox. 5-0 at the extra time for Gunners!

  9. Gerry Lennon says:

    I think it will be a big mistake to think the Song/Rosicky will be strong enough to hold the Milan midfield, and without the ball all the strikers will be wasted.
    Having AOC in the middle is another risk. Tough tackling, doubling up, and clever tactical play by Milan, they will press him into a mistake at every opportunity.
    If Milan sit back and try to hit us on the break, then our full backs will not have that much freedom to go forward without leaving us exposed. Minus 4 goals will soon be minus 6 if we go all out attack?

    What I think would be a more secure option to avoid an embarrassing home defeat would be this line up:
    AOC – RVP

    But think about it? This is a game we are not ‘expected’ to win. But we do not want to lose it either. Nico Yennaris has done well in his few appearances so far, mostly at RB, but he is tackling midfielder. Perfect chance to show what he can do without too much pressure?
    Ozyakup has been knocking at the door for some first team action for a little while now. He can break forward, has a good quick pass, and can win the ball too. This will be a big step up, but with experienced players around him, and plenty of movement, he could be in his element?
    AOC and RVP not being tied to any particular area, but work well together will supply the main attacking threat.

    What, no Walcott or Gervinho you say?
    If we have not made any in-roads into the 4 goal deficit by half time, we will have to save RVP for Newcastle, right? That means Chamakh is most likely to replace him. Bring on one or both of the above to provide crosses to give Chamakh something to work on.

    Whatever happens, realistically I cannot see us winning, but that dos not mean we should not give it try. Losing both home and away, no matter how well we play, would not be good. With my line-up I think we have a chance of getting a couple of goals in the first 60 minutes, without conceding …then you can give it a go with pace on both wings, may be only win 2-1, but having a chance of making it all square? I would rather the youngsters have a chance while it matters than to come on when it doesn’t.

  10. I will be horrified if we risk the fitness of perennial brittle s like Rosikcy and Gibbs considering we have a crunch game against the Geordies next week.Remember it 4-0 and however optimist one can be , seeing gunners through to QF is overlty optimistic to put in a modest way.Also I do not see Wenger playing a 3-4-3 formation …we would be overrun..Period!
    My guess of a lineup would be

    Jenks Bak Kos TV5
    Theo Ox Gerv

    • Dhruv says:

      You are putting all the remaining fit first XI players except Chamakh and Jenks in the team and then also mention about the importance of Geordies game. I dont get it man. What happens if any of these players get injured?

  11. terry says:


    Walcott and gerviniho will have to be on thier best we will have to play the arial ball game today even if milan play with a 5 man midfield, what good is the midfield if they are kept out of the game chamk can lay off the bal to Robin. Walcott and gerviniho can make the runs behind the full backs. i am not saying we can score 5 goals with ease but it is possible if we use our players strengths to the fullest.
    they will not expect us to play the long ball game and may be just may be we can win this game.

  12. Dhruv says:

    This is a tough game to win and Desi has let his imagination run wild with all combos possible. Good job Desi. I had stoped believing in hypes of we beating Milan 5-0 to advance into next round.

    However, recently in Australia, when the Indian cricket had a very acute mathematical chance of progressing to the finals of triangular series cup, they produced one of their best one day innings and chased a huge score of 320+ within 37 overs. Indian team eventually missed out but if you dont give up, sometimes you can succeed.

    So I want the Arsenal team that plays against Milan to give their very best. With the crowd getting behind the team, beating Milan is possible. Even if Arsenal do not win, at least fans would not feel cheated.

    I am looking forward to see Ox in the midfield, I think he did well against Liverpool when he came on. Finally, it is going to be Wenger’s call.




  14. Sabo dalhatu says:

    God bless gunner, by hoping 2 thrash ac milan by 5goals 2nothing.

  15. barbes13 says:

    time for AOC to become the messi of arsenal. the weight is on your shoulder tonite, tow it with all your might.

  16. phill23 says:

    I would go with a 5 3 2/ 3 5 2.
    ~~~ ~~~ Van Persie Walcott ~~~ ~~~
    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ Chamberlain ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    Gibbs ~~~ Rosciky ~~~ Song ~~~ Sagna
    ~~~ Vermaelen Koscielny Djourou ~~~
    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ Szczesny ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

  17. phill23 says:

    Just realized Djourou is also injured…

  18. wengerism.. says:

    if i.m wenger…



    ………………….song bilong




    ps. chamackh can defend and hold te ball, hope bully ibra ??? for 6 player in attack can switch if the situation needed it…!!!!!

  19. gordian08 says:

    THEY WILL PARK THE BUS, we need chamakh and lots of good crossing, also i think this is the game where walcott should be a defensive weapon, people say theo is usless against deep defenses, I say use him as a defensive weapon, get him to chase down counterattacks

  20. cupsui says:

    Desi Desi Desi!!
    I stand and applaud loudly. Exceptional Analysis.
    For me this is simply too much of a miracle to occur and there are A LOT of players with or close to injuries that need rest. But i know wenger is going to give it a shake and credit to him although its a big risk.
    Anyone else think desi should be the next manager after wenger calls it a day?

  21. richie says:

    Magnificent pride restoring effort from the boys! You called it right Desi a bridge too far but we can hold our heads up.

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