The red and black Milan players try to build from the back, the yellow gunners let the defenders have the ball, but get tight to the midfielders and forwards (employing the technique of “through marking”). Thiago Silva dallies on the ball, his head up, searching for options. He skips away from a van Persie challenge and drives forward, heading straight for the heart of Arsenal’s defence, unopposed. He lays it off for Ibrahimovic, who splits from his marker, Koscielny, for a moment long enough for him to receive the ball. Silva continues his run into the box as he tries to get onto the end of Ibra’s first time chipped pass. But Vermaelen heads the ball away, and Kieren Gibbs, coming inside to cover, sweeps up the loose ball.
And then begins the Arsenal attack. Gibbs takes one, two, three touches as he scampers down the left flank, he lays it off to Arteta, who’s touch is perfect. He swivels and plays a quick pass to Ramsey. Milan push forward, trying to press Arsenal’s midfield, and van Bommel dispossess Ramsey with a precise stab of his right foot. The ball drops back to Arteta, who finds Gibbs who has continued his run down the flank. He drives forward, hugging the touchline. The Ox drifts inside, dragging the fullback with him, freeing up the left side completely. Gibbs takes full advantage, drives into the box, and cuts it back for an onrushing Aaron Ramsey, who was too quick for van Bommel, and slides the ball into the net.
That’s what I think will happen. We will score a couple, winning 2-0, leaving us with a pressure-free second leg at the Emirates. I don’t think it will be an easy match, but AC Milan have found it hard to score lately, their functional midfield has found it hard to break down defences. Defensively they are a solid team, but can the ageing van Bommel keep up with the sheer energy of Ramsey? Have they faced anything like the pure pace of Walcott since he appeared as a substitute at the San Siro four years ago?
They will not sit back and play purely on the counter like Sunderland did, and most sides do against us. While the away goal rule encourages teams to prioritize a defence over attack, I do expect them to come out and attack us.
Their 4-3-1-2 shape means the midfield will be flooded, and we might not be able to pass our way through. The focus of our attacks will be on the flanks, as they have no wingers to occupy our fullbacks, and they can push forward. In pre-season, we faced Benfica who played a similar shape, and it was Gibbs who created our goal in the first half. I expect him to start here again, and I expect him to be a menace going forward.
And regardless of all the tactics and all that, RvP is the by far the best striker on the pitch, and even in a tight match, I would expect him to create chances and score from a half chance. So 2-0 to The Arsenal.