The Champion's League draw has been made for the last 16 and has thrown up two mouth-watering English/Italian affairs. Arsenal vs AC Milan and Chelsea vs Napoli. Bring them on.
AC Milan v Arsenal
An hour ago Cesc Fabregas tweeted "Woooow Arsenal vs Milan!!!! What a draw!!!!"
It is doubtful whether the Fab one would have been so delirious were he still a Gunner having to prepare to shackle the experienced nous of the Milan midfield and track the artful runs of Robinho and Ibrahimovic. From the safe confines of the Nou Camp however he can view the tie with the same relish and anticipation as we can. It is a mouth-waterer.
On paper at least it’s a daunting prospect for Arsene’s boys or it would have been only a few weeks back. Now though Arsenal have finally found their stride – the 8-2 debacle at Old Trafford is a fast-fading scar – and with arguably the best striker currently blazing a trail throughout Europe leading their line they have little to fear.
It almost goes without saying that a fit and firing Van Persie is crucial to their aspirations to progress past a side built on the imposing twin columns of Nesta and Thiago Silva. For the return leg at the Emirates in particular – when tactical reserve is loosened and possession is allied to all-out passion they require the Dutchman’s calm clinical finishing to tuck away the numerous chances they’re expected to make.
At the San Siro the attacking onus falls upon the searing pace of Walcott to trouble a solid rearguard that can deal with anything but speed in a game that will probably be chess-like and tight.
Both Arsenal’s club secretary David Miles and Milan’s director Umberto Gandini have already described this as the tie of the round. It undoubtedly is.
Last season Spurs squeaked through at the same stage against the same opponents. Arsenal must now mirror their neighbour’s fine achievement.
Andre Villas-Boas must put the transition on hold and go back to basics. A spine of Terry, Lampard and Drogba should see them through
Napoli v Chelsea
It has become boring to talk about Chelsea’s high back-line and Luiz’s propensity for living out his creative-midfielder fantasies. But now they’re now up against a formidable, interchangeable trio of Lavezzi, Hamsik and the imperious Cavani it must once again be broached. Lavezzi is a scurrying raging bull deceiving all with his demeanour by suddenly producing an exquisite touch. Hamsik may look like a pencil-top troll but his movement is all about intelligence and economy. The tall front man Cavani meanwhile is the master of carving out the pockets of space he requires to operate and punish.
Chelsea must keep things water-tight and solid throughout both ties. Considering their recent record can this be done?
Elsewhere Maggio is a grafting, crafting midfielder who will give Ramires endless runs for his money.
Andre Villas-Boas must put the transition on hold and go back to basics. A spine of Terry, Lampard and Drogba should see them through: they know what it takes to dispense with such tricky fare with such high stakes.
Drogba is back to his battering-ram beast-like best, waging a one-man war on the opposing defence. Lampard is astute enough to remain disciplined and know when to take risks. Terry will relish the challenge of Cavani assuming he has a partner alongside him to negate any clever lay-offs.
AVB would be wise to learn from Manchester City’s mistakes. Keep tight, plenty of energy and endeavour in midfield and let your quality up front grind down a well-organized but beatable back-line.
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