Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Frank Tigani On February - 16 - 2012

Milan Make a Statement of Intent After Thrashing Arsenal

It could not have been any better. It could not have been any sweeter. Four unanswered goals from Milan against Arsenal ensured the Italians have at least one foot in the quarter finals. For coach Max Allegri, it was his most significant moment in the Champions League of his short managerial career.

But, Allegri was not the star of the night. Led from the front by an inspired Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was the collective performance of Milan that shone the brightest at the San Siro. Despite their fluorescent away strips, Arsenal were left to chase shadows as a result.

In a season where Italy’s Serie A boasts the greatest number of representatives in the knockout stages – three in total – this win will add fuel to the claim that the once greatest league in the world is again back on the rise.

Yet, aside from the ceaseless debate about the Serie A’s standing in today’s modern game, this was a performance to savour for Milan’s players, the club and for calcio, in general. After years of falling short against English opposition, with Milan particularly guilty of this – they had been eliminated from this stage of the competition by English teams in their prior three attempts to qualify for the quarter finals – this was a result that turned the tables.

And, in what emphatic fashion did Milan rearrange the settings. It was nothing short of an utter rout. A display of such dominance that it will be mentioned in the same breathe as Milan’s demolition of Manchester United in the semi-finals of the 2007 Champions League. Incidentally, that was the year Milan last went on to win the trophy. Could they be on their way to winning it again? You would not bet against now even with all the hoorah surrounding Spain’s two giants.

It is hard to fault the display of any Milan player. Even Luca Antonini, arguably the weakest link in Allegri’s first eleven, did his job of containing the pacey Theo Walcott. The Englishman was nowhere to be seen, so much so that Antonini spent large swaths of the game in the opposite half, contributing to the attack and even getting into a great scoring position in the second half. If only he could shoot with his left foot.

Apart from two decent attempts on target, Arsenal’s Robin van Persie was kept relatively quiet by the stout defensive duo of Philippe Mexes and Thiago Silva. The Dutchman is the Premier League’s leading goal-scorer, but, his inept showing illustrated just why it is often claimed that scoring in Italy is a different proposition than doing so in the free-scoring, free flowing football of the EPL.

But, van Persie has to be given some slack for he was provided with virtually no support from his team-mates behind him. Mikel Arteta, Adam Ramsey and Alex Song were completely outfought and outthought by Milan’s midfield three of Antonio Nocerino, Urby Emmanuelson and Mark van Bommel.

Nocerino was his usual dynamic self. He typically got himself into some good scoring positions while he did the dirty work obligatory of a central player. He also displayed real finesse when playing in Kevin Prince Boateng for the Rossoneri’s first goal.

Yet, the men that really changed the game, that took charge of the contest and consequently the tie, was Milan’s triumvirate of Kevin Prince-Boateng, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In his first game back from injury, Prince showed just what a key player he is for this Milan side. In recent weeks the Italian champions have looked a shadow of their former selves. Even their momentous victory away to Udinese last weekend did little to convince that matters had changed.

But, what a difference the former Tottenham player’s influence proved to be. Milan once again looked to be back to their best and Prince’s ingenuity, passing and innovation – not to mention his wonder-goal that got the balling rolling – in the trequartista role behind the two strikers was essential in making this possible.

As for Robinho, few would have predicted that he would score one in this match, let alone two. The Brazilian has only 3 Serie A goals to his name this season. A poor return for a striker of his standing. Yet, in perhaps Milan’s most crucial, season-defining match so far, the former Manchester City outcast propelled himself back to stardom with two world class strikes.

Yet, if one player could be singled out for special praise then there is only one name; Ibrahimovic. The Swede was literally unplayable. It seemed that nothing was impossible for him. The Gunner’s defence simply could not contain him. He finished the night with one fully deserving goal, scored from a penalty he won himself. He was also the provider for both of Robinho’s goals.

Often criticised for not performing on the European stage, often labelled a big game ‘flop’, Zlatan went some way to silencing his critics. Despite his poor scoring record in the knockout stages of the Champions League – has had netted just 3 times before last night – the Swede seems to enjoy playing Arsenal as two of these came against Arsene Wenger’s side in 2010 when he played for Barcelona.

But, perhaps what is most laudable is that the Swede was able to lift his game after a poor string of domestic displays. Currently serving a three match suspension for lashing out in a fixture against Napoli, Ibrahimovic has failed to score a single goal in his last three outings.

Given this context and given his still wanting record in Europe, as with Robinho, few would have thought he would play to such a level and help his side to such a grand victory.

ESPN’s commentator, Janusz Michallik, described Milan’s on form triumvirate of Prince, Robinho and Ibrahimovic as the “perfect storm”. He said the Gunners were unlucky to meet Milan at the moment this ‘perfect storm’ reached its climax. He was right. Arsenal were blown away by Milan. They left empty handed and with their European campaign in tatters.

It will take a disaster of nuclear proportions for Milan to surrender their lead in the return leg and put in jeopardy their place in the quarter finals. It seems unlikely that the Italians will concede five goals, even on English soil where recent ventures by the Serie A giants are best forgotten.

Allegri’s men executed an old fashioned Italian job to near perfection. A spot in the quarter finals now beckons. The return to form and action of Prince, Robinho and Ibrahimovic will do wonders for this team going forward, both in Italy and in Europe. Milan may not be the all-conquering force they were twenty years ago, even six years ago, but, after a barren spell in the competition that the club claims to be in it’s “DNA”, Milan have announced their return to the upper echelons of Europe’s premier competition and it is a very warm welcome back.

  • Dog

    Don’t get carried away Frank. Poor as Arsenal were the goals came from a shot that a keeper should save, an offside, a defenders slip and a highly dubious penalty. Apart from that 2 shots on target. I bet Barca and Real are quaking!

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