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Europa League • AC Milan vs. Arsenal: Looking Glass


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It’s hard not to be excited about our chances facing Arsenal at this point in their season. With their current poor form, it gives us hope for advancing to the next round. But as a Milan fan who has suffered through such poor circumstances and an almost continuous “slump” for the past six years, it’s also painful to watch another European club and its fans suffering. It’s almost like stepping into a looking glass.

Current mood

We all know the history… Arsenal have won 13 league titles, Milan have won 18. Arsenal’s “Invincibles” once went on a 38 game winning streak, Milan’s “Immortals” once went on a 58 game winning streak. Arsenal have yet to win the Champions League, Milan have won the Champions League seven times. But that was then, this is now. Neither team have ever won the Europa League, and that is the trophy both teams are fighting for now in this Round of 16.

The last time these two teams met in European competition was in the Champions League in 2012. Milan won the first leg at the San Siro 4-0, but had no answers at Emirates stadium, where Arsenal won 3-0. Even though Milan squeaked through that tie, Arsenal made us suffer. And since that point, Milan have done a lot more suffering. Despite the current brief resurgence under Gattuso, Milan have struggled for the past six years, without any Europe at all for three of those years. Meanwhile, for Arsenal, this is the first year since the 1997-98 season that they are not in Champions League, yet they still managed a Europa League spot by way of their fifth place finish last year.

Has football passed him by?

The key to Arsenal’s 20 years in Europe is also likely the cause of their current poor run of form. And that key is the legendary Arsene Wenger. As the devout Arsenal fan Adam mentioned on the latest podcast, it seems as though football has passed Wenger by and he no longer has any answers for this team. They have lost their past five matches straight, including their 2-1 loss to Brighton on the weekend. For that match, Wenger lined up Cech; Koscielny, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Chambers, Özil, Xhaka, Wilshere, Aubameyang, Iwobi, and Mkhitaryan. Milan’s former youth player, Aubameyang, is not eligible for the Europa League, having already appeared for Dortmund in the Champions League this season. Wenger will also be without right back Bellerin, which is a huge loss for them. He will also reportedly be without Monreal, Lacazette, and Cazorla due to injury.

Gattuso was six years old when Wenger started coaching, for a little perspective. He also should have played our last tie with Wenger’s Arsenal, but was still recovering from his eye injury. But his current form with Milan is the opposite of the coaching legend’s. Milan are enjoying a 13 match unbeaten streak, with six straight wins, and six straight clean sheets to go with. Relying more on grinta and heart than any kind of tactical genius, Gattuso has seemingly restored Milan’s “identity” and up until now, that has been enough to pull off the wins this calendar year. Storari has returned to fitness levels allowing him to sit in the third keeper spot once again on the bench, which could be hazardous to Milan players who score. Conti is close to returning but not quite, and Antonelli, Abate, and Musacchio will be out to injury. Other than that, Gattuso will have a full squad to choose from.

Another legend with a tough day at the office vs. Brighton

It’s hard to know whether Davide Astori’s funeral will be a distraction or a motivator. The unexpected time off on Sunday has given the squad more rest, but undoubtedly more emotion. Playing at home in front of the expected 70,000 at the San Siro, only 2,000 of which are rumored to be traveling Gunners fans, Milan have to like their chances in this leg. But in addition to the other distractions, it might be kind of hard to face a great team going through tough times. Kind of like staring into a looking glass.


This post inspired by the music of The English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom”


Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal
Thursday, March 8 • 19:00 CET (1pm EST)
This match will be shown LIVE on Fox Sports 2 and ESPN Deportes in the U.S.