The Champions League returns this week and if the drama of the normally predictably drab group stages is anything to go by, the knock-out rounds promise to be explosive.
With shocks and intrigue in nearly every group, the pre-Christmas matches were actually interesting for once.
Both Manchester United and rivals City failed to get out the group stages (that has no relevance other than it amuses me greatly) but Arsenal, after a scare in the qualifiers against Udinese, won their group fairly comfortably and their reward is a glamour tie against Serie A leaders AC Milan.
It is the sort of match that whets the appetite and Milan’s great old stadium holds happy memories for Arsenal, who were the first English team to win a competitive match at the San Siro when they defeated their hosts 2-0 in 2008.
Arsenal have won just three of their last 12 away games in the Champions League, and defeats haven’t just been to Barcelona.
It was a landmark result for the club and at the time seemed like a significant coming of age for Arsene Wenger’s young team, but four years later potential is still to fulfilled, the trophy cabinet remains unopened since 2005 and Arsenal are far from assured to be competing in the competition next year as fourth place in the Premier League looks like anyone’s.
Arsenal head into the match on the back of a good win against rejuvenated Sunderland but in indifferent form and the odds suggest a repeat of that famous night is not likely.
The Gunners are 11/4 to win at the San Siro again, with Milan even money with bwin’s 3way market to get revenge and take a lead into the second leg. The draw is quoted as a 23/10 shot.
I would tend to agree with the odds. Arsenal have sneaked into the last Champions League place but that says more about the failings of Chelsea and Liverpool than it does their own form.
Arsenal are actually 11th in the Premier League form guide having taken seven points from their last six games and, a 7-1 spanking of Blackburn apart, are failing to play like a side capable of winning Europe’s top trophy.
Their away form hasn’t been good enough all season. Arsenal have lost six away league games already and have conceded 26 goals in 13 matches – only Blackburn and Wigan have let in more.
They have lost three out of the last six on the road (at Fulham, Swansea and Manchester City) and a look at their recent record in Europe makes for similarly bleak reading.
Arsenal have won just three of their last 12 away games in the Champions League, and defeats haven’t just been to Barcelona: they have lost at Shakhtar Donetsk, Braga, Olympiakos and Porto and it is not a run of results that breeds confidence ahead of a difficult match against Milan.
Milan have recovered from a woeful start to lead Serie A (albeit having played two more games than Juventus) and have been formidable at home, a defeat to rivals Inter Milan apart.
That loss is their only home loss in Serie A since December 2010, a run of 21 games, and they have been nigh-on impenetrable on home turf in recent weeks.
The Rossoneri have conceded just two goals in nine matches, keeping seven clean sheets.
As such, there is no doubt Arsenal have their work cut out and the evens on a home win is advisable.
It is 13/10 for the match to be won by a single goal and that is also worth a look.
Arsenal may get beaten but that’s not to say they’re not good enough to still be in the tie come the return at the Emirates in three weeks’ time.
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