AC Milan v Arsenal Preview : It's going to get worse for Wenger
- San Siro
- Kick off: 18:00
- BT Sport
How did it come to this? After 21 glorious years at the club - well, the first decade was glorious, anyway - Arsene Wenger is in danger of throwing his legacy as Arsenal manager away. The Frenchman has guided his troops to one of their poorest seasons in recent memory. The Gunners are a full 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham in the race for a Champions League and even though they made the EFL Cup final, they embarrassed themselves en route to a 3-0 loss to Manchester City. Like Manchester United last season, the Europa League is now their only hope of qualifying for the Champions League and they have to win the competition if they intend to make it back amongst Europe's elite. It worked for United, but Arsenal have to get past AC Milan in the quarter-finals to make good on that promise and that is far from certain. The Italian heavyweights are flying right now with Gennaro Gattuso at the helm, but Arsenal are still the second-favorites for the tournament behind Atletico Madrid.
Arsenal have pretty much hit rock-bottom. Of course, most sides would love to be sitting sixth in the league having made a domestic cup final and still playing football in Europe at a quarter-final stage, but this is years of frustration from the Gunners faithful that means just being around the top and token challenges won't placate them anymore. When Alexis Sanchez left the club for Manchester United in January, it was clear that the Chilean had given up on winning major silverware at the Emirates Stadium and he was going to run his contract down. Wenger's delusions that he might have a change of heart only made things worse - even though Mesut Ozil did ultimately have a change of heart - and he ended up having to sell to rivals Manchester United once again, something he swore he'd never do after the Robin van Persie fiasco. As a reaction, Arsenal signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan as part of the Sanchez deal and splashed a club-record fee on, ironically, former AC Milan man Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. But, the Gunners have lost four games in a row for the first time since 2002 and to compound a miserable 2018, Arsenal also exited the FA Cup at the third round stage for the first time since Wenger took over in 1996 - to Nottingham Forest. Wenger's refusal to fix his leaky defence has led to collapses all season long and Arsenal have only won three games away from home domestically. Witha . reported dressing room bust-up after the defeat at Brighton on Sunday, the players seem to have turned their back on Wenger.
There's something very special, but very different about Gennaro Gattuso. The former industrious midfielder who was a legend on the pitch for the Rossoneri and with the club going through managers like there's no tomorrow in recent years, it was time for a hardline disciplinarian get the club in order. AC Milan is one of the most temperamental clubs in the world when it comes to managerial stability, but Gattuso seems to have brought back some of the discipline they used to be famed for. Milan are unbeaten in their last twelve games with five wins in their last six and they haven't conceded in their last six games either. On the contrary, Arsenal have shipped 10 goals in their last six and look like they could concede at any conceivable moment. For Milan, they spent years in the wilderness until they started spending money two summers ago, but last summer they really ramped up their efforts. Although they have spent big money on stars like Frank Kessie, Nikola Kalinic, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Conti, Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu, the emergence of yong starlet Patrick Cutrone has been the biggest joy for the Milan faithful. The 20-year-old has scored 12 goals this season with four coming in seven appearances in the Europa League
What they are saying
Gattuso has not been shy about his own shortcomings or how his expensive Milan side will play: “We’re not Brad Pitt. We have to continue being as ugly as me and my beard, with dark circles under our eyes,” Gattuso said. “I want to clear this up, as I am not a great coach. I’m still in the early days, I’m not a guru of the bench and I’ve achieved nothing yet. At the same time, I am not the person that some seemed to think I was. You don’t learn this profession through books, you learn it by getting smashed in the teeth by setbacks. I’ve had some and I will have many more.”
Conversely, Wenger is at the other end of the spectrum and he is fighting to see out the remaining 18 months on his contract: "I have been here for 21 years and I always respected my contract," he said. "In life, I look at what people do, not at what they say. If you want me not to be here, that's a different problem. You ask me my commitment, and my attitude is dictated by what I did in my life, not by what I say in a press conference." Addressing a question from a national newspaper journalist about his deal, Wenger replied: "What is above you? You will not decide your future in your newspapers and I am exactly like you. I am an employee and I give my best for my club that I love."
It's hard to make a case for Arsenal here. Do they have the resiliance and leaders to get a result in Milan? One could say they have the talent and the players on their night, but defensively, they are so prone to conceding it's just hard to imagine they'll dictate the play. AC Milan have made a habit out of narrow victories as of late - with Roma on that list of recent wins - and the idea that they will beat Arsenal 1-0 is something that is very easy to believe in. They are going nicely in Serie A now and they have all the form, the home advantage and the morale to win the first leg of this tie.
- Arsenal have lost four games in a row for the first time since 2002
- AC Milan are unbeaten in their last 12
- Arsenal are the second favourites to win the Europa League
- AC Milan have kept six clean sheets in a row
- Arsenal are 13 points behind Tottenham in the Premier League