Europa League: AC Milan 0, Arsenal 2: Just a Flesh Wound

In the epic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” there is a formidable Black Knight who guards a bridge with the ferocity of Gattuso and the unrealistic viewpoint of a Montella or Allegri. As the scene progresses, the Black Knight loses an arm, exclaiming it’s “Tis but a scratch!”  Then he loses another arm, one leg, and then the other, but still wants to fight. That’s the kind of spirit that our team fought with today, but spirit alone was not enough. Outclassed tactically and with players and a coach with more European experience in their small toes than our entire team had, we were left for dead. Only we have a rematch next week on their bridge, and I hope that’s enough time to grow our limbs back.

Brave as the Black Knight and as unlucky

I have to start by saying that Astori’s death weighed heavily on our team. Not just the fact that they were unable to travel to Fiorentina to attend his funeral services and say their goodbyes properly, but the reminder just before kickoff with the beautiful moment of silence. And the banner hanging over the Curva Sud to honor him. And the black armbands, which weighed much heavier on their arms than those of the Arsenal players. And while I know in their hearts, Milan players wanted to send Astori off with a well fought victory in front of the 70,000 plus fans at the sold out San Siro, they ended up more like the Black Knight.

Milan started out with enough fight, with three opportunities in the first ten minutes, but none of them on target. That was a recurring theme once again for us tonight. During that time, Mkhitaryan also had a better chance, that went just wide. He did not make that mistake next time, in the 15th minute, when he wrong-way-ed Calabria, took the shot, and the deflection off Bonucci’s back ensured Gigio couldn’t stop it. Not even bending over backwards for it. 1-0 Arsenal. “I’ve had worse!” Özil had the assist on that one, not his only one on the night, and it’s worth noting that Arsenal’s World Cup winner was on the pitch, whereas Milan’s World Cup winner was in the technical area, unable to actually help in this match.

Hard to score when your limbs are cut off

Calabria injured his knee in the 18th and again in the 23rd, I feared the worst for him. Particularly since he was playing in the place of Conti, who has been out with an ACL injury most of the season. But he stuck it out and played until he was subbed in 79th minute. Suso battled hard with chances, but was stopped every time, even at the expense of Mustafi from Ospina in the 30th. In the 44th, from a Calhanoglu corner, Bonucci almost made it to head it in, beating Ospina, but not actually able to take advantage.

Gigio had a couple of saves on Welbeck in the 42nd, then Mkhitaryan hit the crossbar in the 45th + 1. But it was Özil’s brilliant pass through… wait for it… flashback... two Milan defenders... that allowed Ramsey to easily beat Gigio in the final minute of stoppage time in the first half. 2-0 Arsenal. Kind of like being dismembered. “Just a flesh wound!”

I think I'd rather be dismembered

In the second half, Milan fought back with the improbable tenacity of a limbless knight. “Come back here, and take what’s coming to you! I’ll bite your legs off!” But like a limbless knight, it didn’t go so well for us. We lacked the clinical finishing we have lacked all year, but also seemed a bit sluggish and overwhelmed. This was not Ludogorets. This wasn’t Rijeka, Austria Wien, Shkendija, AEK Athens, or Craiova. No disrespect to those teams, but this was Arsenal, who may not have won a European trophy in years, but have consistently played in Europe every season for twenty years. With a coach that has more experience as a coach than Gattuso’s playing and coaching careers combined. And despite having a bit of a morale slump, they easily prevailed against Milan in this match. And played well, too.

Even our best opportunities passed us by

This was not the game Milan wanted to play in this match. Perhaps it was our desperation for a return to the Champions League that got the best of us, perhaps we were just so excited for a change in mentality and fortunes after so long that we weren’t prepared. Or perhaps it was the loss of a player from our youth system and National Team teammate that weighed too heavily on us. Certainly, it was not for the lack of support from our fans, who sang, cheered and drummed for 90 minutes trying to propel our boys to victory on their own. But perhaps, like the Black Knight, our bravado is still greater than our skillset. Let us hope, if our limbs grow back for Sunday’s match against Genoa, that we have more actual fight than bravado when we travel to London next week. Or at least that we don’t let ourselves be caught limbless, bleeding out, saying it’s “Just a flesh wound!”

This post inspired by the life of Davide Astori, a life filled with leadership, class, and smiles. Our goodbyes were much too soon.

Our next match is
Serie A Week 28
Genoa vs. Milan
Sunday, March 11 • 18:00 CEST (1pm EST)*
*Remember to adjust your times in North America due to Daylight Savings Time

Europa League: AC Milan 0, Arsenal 2: Just a Flesh Wound Europa League: AC Milan 0, Arsenal 2: Just a Flesh Wound Reviewed by Elaine on 11:33 PM Rating: 5
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