|photo by ephotography||via PhotoRee|
Another Champions League night, another night without Manchester United. Wednesday night's rent-a-date was a fairly bitter pill to swallow: Putting myself firmly in the Gooner camp, I chose to watch a decent but fatally flawed Arsenal side bring their potent attack and vapid defense to Italy to take on AC Milan's enigmatic attack and experienced defense at the San Siro. 2012's match pitting an English visitor against an Italian host was unlikely to offer any "Taxi for Maicon" or head butting theatrics, but would it serve up some entertaining football....? To answer the question, farlieonfootie headed off to Italy to catch all the action:
The two sides traded blows in the early going, although truth be told, both looked more eager than threatening with their initial attacks. It was difficult to determine whether it was the shocking state of the pockmarked San Siro pitch or Zlatan Ibrahimovic's equally woeful and scraggly attempt at a beard and mustache that proved more distracting to Arsenal's initial efforts. Having failed to create much in the way of real offense, the Gunners found themselves in a giving mood, returning the ball time and again to the Italians, although none more costly than the turnover which resulted from Arsenal 'keeper Wojciech Sczcesny's poor kick out near the fifteen minute mark.
It was none other than former Premier League man Kevin Prince Boateng who took full advantage of the visitors' generosity to open the scoring, chesting down and nailing in a volley from an angle sharper than that of his up-swooped hairdo. While Arsenal Gooner-in-Chief, Arsene Wenger, could only watch and grimace from the sideline, his men on the pitch were busy turning in a performance as bland as a plate of un-buttered spaghetti.
Arsenal played the game in slow motion, as if seeking to savor each and every second of their time in northern Italy. For their part, Milan was more than content to play the game at normal speed, a gear that was one click too many for the woeful Gunner defense to handle.
The difference in the two sides' pace was all too apparent shortly before halftime, as Ibrahimovic raced to the endline before picking out an unmarked and onrushing Robinho. The Brazilian, no stranger to the Premier League himself, made no mistake from the top of the six yard box as he bolstered the home side's advantage with a stunningly easy headed goal.
The second half saw the introduction of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, the Frenchman joining the game as a replacement for an ineffective Theo Walcott, as Wenger sought to cajole some offense -- indeed, any offense -- out of his troops. The alteration did little to change the momentum of the contest, however, as Robinho was at the double less than five minutes after the half kicked off, the Brazilian showcasing the kind of form he rarely reached while at Manchester City, bulging the back of the net as well as the scoreline, which now read 3-nil in favor of the locals.
It was difficult to tell who was more surprised when Robin Van Persie forced Milan goalkeeper Massimo Abiatti to make his first save of the evening on 65 minutes, but the Italian rolled over like a man who had been slumbering in bed reaches for the snooze button in time to tip the ball just wide.
Just when it looked as if Arsenal had begun to get their feet underneath them, Henry's class and calm bringing the Gunner offense slowly back into the game -- too slowly, yes, but Gooner fans hadn't much to hang their hat on -- things went from bad to worse when the referee pointed to the spot and the true calamity of the evening's dreadful performance was clarified: the current flawed Arsenal side stripped clean and exposed, the number four on the scoreboard serving as a weighty reminder to the Gunner faithful of the seemingly impossible task awaiting their team in the return leg.
It was 4-nil when the final whistle blew, and the only question remaining after Arsenal's woeful performance -- despite the return leg still remaining -- was just how large the Italian's final margin of victory in the tie would be.
This is farlieonfootie for February 18.