By Kush Sharma
An emphatically imposing AC Milan performance coupled with a timid one from the club from North London resulted in an embarrassing and heavy first leg defeat as the Rossoneri thumped Arsenal 4-0, in what is, in all probability game, set and match for the Italian team, unless Arsene Wenger’s men can conjure up a miracle at the Emirates in the second leg. If the first leg is anything to go by, few would put their money on that happening.
Right from Wojciech Szczesny making a hash of basic clearances, to the midfield displaying an uncharacteristic unassuredness in stringing more than three passes, to a majorly impotent attack, it was a night where nothing went right for Wenger’s side.
So much so, that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry had to be brought on at half time to boost the spirits. But it wasn’t to be, and even the highest goal scorer for the club, could not mask the fact that despite the abundance in talent, this Arsenal team is nowhere near the elite in Europe. Not the ideal farewell to a legend who is cast in bronze outside the Emirates Stadium.
However, not an iota of blame can be attached to the 34 year old Frenchman. In fact, over his short stay, he probably has ended up contributing way more than what the majority would have expected, or even thought possible.
Can Arsenal Regroup With The Legend Gone Again?
From scoring an emphatic winner against Leeds in the FA Cup in his very first appearance since his return, to a late and vital winner at the Stadium of Light, Henry proved his love for the club and manager that nurtured him from a promising forward to the world’s most feared striker at a point of time. What was lost in the legs was made up for by the head.
Even at San Siro, if there was one player in yellow who demonstrated composure in his touches and passing, it was Henry. It highlights how much Arsenal have fallen since the ‘Invincibles’ era. The fact that Henry was brought into the squad not only as cover for Gervinho and Chamakh, but also due to the veteran leadership he may induce into the team, shows how the current Arsenal squad desperately lacks someone who can bolster the team when needed.
The likes of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon, and most recently Dennis Bergkamp, have all expressed their concern about the lack of leadership at the North London club, at some point or the other. Resigning Henry reinforced belief and brought about an air of adventure in the Gunners’ faithful, not so much because they believed he would score goals, but due to his charismatic presence.
"You can always do better, that is what I tell myself. We will see after the last game against Milan how it was for me."
It would not be too amiss to say that over the last four-to-five years, Arsenal have ceased to strike considerable fear in their opponents. The pre-match interviews of the Milan players were evidence enough. Kevin Prince Boateng dismissed Arsenal’s chances, blaming their inexperience for their failure to turn up in the big games. As it turned out, he wasn’t too inaccurate either.
But what is hard to digest, for the fans and incomprehensible to others, is the fact that despite possessing a plethora of talent, Arsenal always end up disappointing in one way or the other. What distinguished the Arsenal of old days from present times was an infusion of talent along with leadership. There was always someone vocal in the team to lift the side when the chips were down - someone who exuded confidence.
It would be tough to imagine the ‘Invincibles’ side, or even the Arsenal teams before that, tamely going down 4-0 in an event of the stature of the Champions League knock-out match. A Tony Adams, or a Patrick Vieira, would step up, issue a rallying cry and make a fight of it. That did not happen at San Siro.
Arsenal barely managed a decent opening in the whole match. Such was the lack of enthusiasm from the players that even Henry’s presence did not alter much. The likes of Robin Van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen could only but witness as Milan decimated the Gunners. Arsenal had taken a beating lying down.
Henry’s departure will make things only worse. His presence in the dressing room had seemed to lift the morale of the team. He returned when Arsenal were recovering from a tough defeat away to Fulham and immediately turned things around.
Now, as Arsenal find themselves knocked out and on the floor again, Arsene Wenger and his team will have to grow on their recent displays in the league, progress further in the FA Cup and hope for a miraculous four goal recovery when the Rossoneri arrive at the Emirates for the second leg.
But they’ll have to do it without Thierry Henry.