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Champions League Round of 16: Milan vs. Arsenal Preview

  Like a beautiful ballet that tells a story, yet requires great skill and endurance on the part of the performers, the characters in this match will be determining the first act of the Round of 16 for these teams. It will have all of the suspense and drama of a Shakespearean story, and the performance will likely be brilliant from those who make the stage. But rather than be a summery, fairy-filled comedy, it will be more of a A Midseason’s Night Dream (that hopefully won’t become a nightmare!) For my part, I am simply hoping that the end of this first act sees Milan victorious, I’m not as concerned with the storyline.


This pairing has been one of the more anticipated since the Round of 16 draw, and not just because both teams share the same shirt sponsor. Milan have been eliminated at this round in their last three attempts by English sides. In fact, in the 2007-08 season, Milan were reigning Champions League champions and Arsenal eliminated them in the Round of 16. So, if I understand Karma correctly, Milan will push through this round & eliminate Arsenal to be crowned champions once again. Am I right? Okay, that may be more wishful thinking than Karma, but one thing is for sure: If Milan want to progress past this round and break their English curse, they must be victorious at home on Wednesday, and ideally with a clean sheet (no away goals.)

Arsenal started even slower than Milan this season, and have had their share of injury woes, too. I suppose you could say that they are correlating sides in their respective leagues, only Milan never had a defeat quite like the 8-2 drubbing that Arsenal took from Manchester United  earlier this season, nor have they had a victory quite like the 7-1 victory Arsenal gave to Blackburn just over a week ago. Despite all of their troubles, however, they have managed to claw back up the Premier League table to a very respectable 4th place, and they are in great form right now. Yay.

Dancing duo? Or double threat?

When they defeated Sunderland 2-1 on the weekend, Wenger deployed a 4-2-3-1 starting lineup of Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Van Persie. Mertesacker was injured, leaving some to speculate that Vermaelen will be moved over to center back and either Coquelin or Gibbs to start at left back. Also, Wenger should have Gervinho back from the African Cup of Nations. And with his subs being Arshavin, Henry, and Ramsey (the latter 2 who scored the goals and the first with one of the assists) in that match, he’s certainly got plenty of options.

Milan have finally got a few options, with the return to training of Nesta, Pato, Boateng, Aquilani, Flamini, and Yepes. The last three are not expected to be available for Wednesday, but Nesta, Pato, and Boateng are hopeful. Abbiati is also a possibility to be fit, although Amelia is in great form should he not be risked. So Allegri could have the possible starting lineup available: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Silva, Mesbah; Emanuelson, van Bommel, Nocerino; Boateng; El Shaarawy, Ibrahimovic. And if that’s the case, I like our chances. But our chances are also based on fitness and form, and some of the players may be only used as subs due to fitness.

Truly a sight for sore eyes, should he play

The game will likely be played at a fairly quick tempo, as Arsenal prefer a quick passing game and are able to maintain the tempo. But we have seen that before and been able to match it. Also, they have a bit of pace on the flanks, so it will be important to keep them in check. Arsenal’s defense is their weakest spot, and if Milan are in form, we might also just be able to stop the EPL’s leading scorer, van Persie, as well as the legendary Henry. With our leading players in attack, and home field advantage, we might just have the edge in this leg. If we are healthy. And it will be very interesting to see how the matchup of Wenger, whose middle names are youth and subs, and Allegri goes. Can Allegri outsmart the wisdom of Wenger?

It's hard to pull one over on this one.

One thing is for sure, the world will be watching the San Siro stage on Wednesday as our teams perform the beautiful dance that is football. At the end of the performance, we can hope for a great result, and pray for no more injuries. (It is the San Siro, after all.) Even with a win at home, Milan will face a bigger challenge in 3 weeks on the return leg to London. Only then will the final curtain call be taken, and I hope that it is Milan who will be the stars of A Midseason’s Night Dream.

Champions League Round of 16 First Leg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal
Wednesday, February 15th • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)
This game will be shown on FSC in the U.S.
(check back on gameday for a list of streams)


This post inspired by the music of Mendelssohn