When the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League was made it was obvious that Arsenal had got the toughest tie of any of the group winners. AC Milan are current champions of Italy, and they are sitting on top of the league in Italy yet again. They only finished second in their group because they had the might of Barcelona to contend with.
Arsenal have managed a mini revival recently with back to back Premier League wins, as well as progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Their football may not be as thrilling as it has been in at times in the past under Arsene Wenger, but at least they were still competitive. The embarrassment of the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United seemed to have been put firmly in the past, or so I thought.
Wenger opted for Kieran Gibbs at left-back, as Thomas Vermaelen moved to a central defensive role with Per Mertesacker injured. Gibbs has never looked too solid defensively, but he has a lot to offer as an attacking full-back. The other change in the Arsenal team that beat Sunderland on Saturday was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Ramsey's inclusion meant that Tomas Rosicky played in a wide role instead of Chamberlain. I've never been fond of Rosicky in that wide role, and I found it hard to understand how Chamberlain had been left out of the team. He may not have set the world alight against Sunderland on Saturday, but surely he had to be a better option than Rosicky.
Rosicky never stops trying, but he hasn't scored in something like two years, and his final ball leaves an awful lot to be desired too. If Rosicky was to have started it should have been in place of Ramsey in a central role to give the team more balance. Wenger has decided to stick with his favoured 4-3-3 formation, and that requires attacking players in the wide roles.
Arsenal were under pressure from the start despite having more possession than Milan. To say that Arsenal were vulnerable on the break is an understatement, as Milan looked like scoring on almost every occasion that they attacked. It looked like only a matter of time before they scored, and I worried about the final outcome unless Arsenal could change things quickly.
Wenger decided the best plan of action on the night was to attack Milan, but that left gaping holes at the back for Milan to expose. It's a very dangerous game for any team to play a high defensive line, and not put any pressure on the opponents when they are in possession. It gave Milan time to pick their passes from midfield, and the runners in behind the Arsenal defence had a field day.
The first goal came after only 15 minutes when Kevin-Prince Boateng was found in acres of space just outside the Arsenal penalty area. He chested the ball down and ran onto it before crashing a volley in off the underside of the crossbar. It was just the start Milan wanted, and the Arsenal players looked like they weren't up for the fight to me.
I cannot understand how Arsenal didn't deploy the age-old tactic of keeping things tight for the first 20 minutes away from home in such a big game. They looked like they had been told to slug it out with Milan, and let the best team win. The current Arsenal team simply isn't good enough to play such an open game against a team with the attacking threat of Milan.
Milan missed some good chances as the first half wore on, and I hoped for Arsenal to reach the break only one goal down. With seven minutes remaining in the first half Milan got a slice of luck when an offside Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up Robinho to head in their second goal. It was a blow for Arsenal, but it was no more than Milan deserved at that stage.
When half-time arrived I hoped that Wenger would be able to change things around and tighten thins up at the back and in midfield too. He did make one change with the introduction of Thierry Henry for the ineffectual Theo Walcott. Walcott may have been poor in that first half, but he got absolutely no service at all.
It meant that Arsenal were playing a more traditional 4-4-2 formation with Henry playing up front alongside Robin van Persie. It also meant that the two wide players were Rosicky and Ramsey, and Chamberlain was left to sit on the bench. If Arsenal were going to play that formation they needed a creative player in central midfield, but sadly the club no longer possesses such a player.
Laurent Koscielny had already departed injured just before half time, and he had been replaced by Johan Djourou. Arsenal had used two of their three subs, but the team certainly didn't look any stronger in my opinion. Djourou has being having a bad time this season, and his introduction didn't fill me with any hope.
When Arsenal had all of their full-backs injured there was hope that they would improve defensively when they returned. I said at the time that there was no guarantee of other players not getting injured, and now it appears the centre-backs are lining up to be knocked down. Mertesacker and Koscielny have picked up injuries in consecutive games, and suddenly the centre of defence looks very vulnerable too.
Only four minutes into the second half Milan added their third goal, and Robinho got his second of the night. He cut across the edge of the Arsenal box with the ball, and saw his chance to shoot when Vermaelen slipped and fell over. His shot was excellently hit, and it went right into the corner to make Arsenal's task even harder.
Arsenal eventually came into the game, and RVP had a shot excellently saved by Christian Abbiati in the Mian goal after Henry had set him up. There were one or two other attempts from Arsenal, but Milan always looked more likely to add to their lead on the break. With just over 10 minutes left that proved to be just the case.
Ibrahimovic found himself in a one-on-one in the Arsenal penalty area with Djourou, and he knew exactly what to do. He knocked the ball past the Arsenal defender, and then both players tussled a little before Ibrahimovic fell over. The replays seemed to indicate that Ibrahimovic made a meal of the incident, and even went looking fo Djourou's leg rather than actually being tripped.
The referee had no hesitation in giving the penalty, and Ibrahimovic stepped up himself to dispatch it into the corner of the net. Even if he had missed I think the penalty would have to have been retaken, as Wojciech Szczesny seemed to move off his line too soon. There were only 10 minutes left, and there was nowhere for Arsenal to go at that stage.
Chamberlain had come on for Gibbs midway through the second half, and at least he looked like he was trying to make something happen. Milan shadowed him very closely when he had the ball, but at least he tried to take players on and put them under some pressure. Thankfully for Arsenal Milan didn't add any more goals, and they ended up only losing 4-0.
Despite my misgivings about two of Milan's goals I have no doubt that they deserved to win by at least four goals. It was an awful performance by Arsenal, as the team simply didn't look good enough to compete on the night. They weren't helped by the tactics employed either, and Wenger has to take the blame for that.
I find it hard to believe that he really thought Arsenal could go away to Milan, and stand up to them blow-for-blow. They were not strong enough defensively, and they didn't close the ball down quickly enough all over the pitch. They got what they deserved on the night, and I can see no way that they can turn around such a huge deficit in the return leg.
It means that Arsenal's only hope of a trophy this season is in the FA Cup, and the trip to Sunderland on Saturday takes on huge importance. I never believed the current squad was capable of winning any trophy other than the FA Cup or the Carling Cup this season, and so it has proved. If they lose to Sunderland their chances of winning anything this season will have ended in February.
I sincerely hope that Arsenal manage to beat Sunderland, and I know they are good enough to do it. I hope the players can get over their poor performance, and raise their game enough to get a result. It will be Arsenal who are tired this week after playing last night, and traveling home from Italy.
Sunderland will have had a week off, and they should be the ones full of running towards the end of the game on Saturday. The Arsenal players need to take a long hard look at themselves, and give everything they have to ensure that their season stays alive. Otherwise they will have three months in which their only task will be to try to finish fourth in the Premier League.
What sort of message would that send to RVP as he considers whether he should sign a new contract or not. Arsenal didn't invest properly last summer, and they have paid a price for it, but hopefully they will also learn a lesson from it. Nights like last night cannot be allowed to become normal for Arsenal, and only real investment in the team/squad will prevent that.
I can honestly sat that the current team/squad is the worst one that Wenger has produced for Arsenal, and it has to be remedied. Some real class has to be added to the squad, or Arsenal could be facing into a bleak future. It won't change how I feel for my club, but it certainly will hurt to see the team struggle.
Finally for today it was a shame for Henry's brief loan spell to come to an end with that result last night. He tried his best when he came on, but it would have taken a miracle for Arsenal to have got anything from that game. He really helped the cause during his time at the club, and two of the three goals he scored proved to be game winners.
If Arsenal do somehow manage to finish fourth this season he will have played his part. He also added to his fantastic tally as Arsenal's record goalscorer, and helped to increase his standing as a legend for Arsenal fans. I don't think he will ever play competitively for Arsenal again, but he will always remain a fan.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See you tomorrow.