There are some stadiums which instantly get the hairs on your back standing up when you hear their name; the Santiago Bernabeu, Old Trafford and the Maracana are just three examples. The San Siro, or Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, is undoubtedly another and on Thursday night Arsene Wenger will take his Arsenal side to the historic arena to face an AC Milan team who have been inspired by former player and new manager Rino Gattuso.
Milan are on a 13-game unbeaten run and haven’t conceded a goal in almost 600 minutes of football. They are solid, organised and playing like a team capable of challenging heavyweights Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund for the Europa League trophy.
In stark contrast, Arsenal’s last six games in all competitions have seen them defeated four times – including at home to Swedish side Ostersunds FK – while their last victory in the Premier League was over a month ago against Everton.
The Gunners have only won seven points from their eight league games so far in 2018, while they are 33 points behind league leaders Manchester City and, perhaps more relevantly, 13 points adrift of fourth-place Tottenham in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Indeed, Wenger has more pressing issues than qualifying for the Champions League through domestic competition – and he’s already admitted that the chances of Arsenal finishing in the top four are ‘unlikely’.
For over two decades Arsenal’s qualification for the Champions League seemed like a sure bet under Wenger, but a worrying decline has seen them slip further away from the pack in both England and Europe – leaving the very real chance of a second season without Champions League football.
What was initially described via clichés such as a ‘breath of fresh air’ and an ‘opportunity to compete’ in the Europa League has been replaced by a mountain of pressure for a match in which Wenger’s immediate future could hinge on.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis began exerting his influence last summer with the appointments of Darren Burgess as Director of High Performance and Huss Fahmy arriving as a legal expert.
Those changes have been taken up a notch recently with Raul Sanllehi signing on as Head of Football Relations and Sven Mislintat coming in as Head of Recruitment. The latter was heavily involved in all three of Arsenal’s January signings and will play a huge part in the club’s recruitment drive on the playing side this summer.
Meanwhile, Gattuso’s appointment at Milan is certainly something Arsenal should take note of. Club legends returning to their former clubs to coach should only be accepted if the appointment is made on merit, not sentiment – with Thierry Henry recently reiterating his desire to become Gunners boss one day.
Another option is Mikel Arteta who is succeeding with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side, while coaching staff roles for the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Martin Keown surely make sense at a time when Arsenal look devoid of creativity, defensive nous and the ability to score.
Those who are questioning the confusing and far from transparent ownership dealings at Milan will almost certainly be the subject of envy from Arsenal fans. They have interested owners whose line of communication to the fans has been to hire a club legend.
Arsenal executive director Josh Kroenke is currently in London on a three month review of the workings at the club, yet he wasn’t present for the Gunners’ latest Premier League defeat to Brighton on Sunday. Was he too busy or indifferent to what happens on the pitch?
“We have a saying over at Arsenal, victory through harmony,” Kroenke recently told the Woj Podcast. "I think that victory through harmony can take a lot of different meanings, but for me victory through harmony comes from communication.”
Communication is indeed key for an Arsenal side who look like a mess on the pitch at the moment. Victory at San Siro wouldn't achieve the harmony Kroenke alludes to but it would give Wenger and his team some breathing space amid a packed schedule.
European glory and a passage into the latter stages of the Europa League could be enough to salvage what has been Wenger's worst campaign as Arsenal boss since he arrived in 1996.
Ultimately, the undeniable truth is that Wenger needs Arsenal more than they need him and that has been the case for quite some time now. There is no better test of a team’s resolve than coming out on top in a tricky European away game and if Arsenal can surpass the new and improved AC Milan to salvage something from their disastrous season, then it could keep Wenger in a job until the end of the season at the very least.