Arsenal face AC Milan tonight in the second leg of their last 16 Champions League clash. After their disastrous 4-0 defeat away to Milan three weeks ago the tie would seem to be a foregone conclusion. It has been described as mission impossible, and that's probably the most accurate assessment.
AC Milan are the current champions of Italy, and they are on top of their national league table yet again. They qualified in second place in their group behind Barcelona who are rightly considered to be the best team in the world. Teams of Milan's calibre simply do not give up four goal leads, and all Arsenal can realistically hope for is to rescue some pride and dignity after the first leg shambles.
Since that defeat Arsenal have also exited the FA Cup to Sunderland, and their season looked likely to fall apart and end in turmoil. The players have somehow found it within themselves to bounce back from those disappointments, and they have taken six points from their last two Premier League games. The manner of those victories was really impressive when you consider who the opposition were, and how the games panned out.
Just over a week ago Arsenal were 2-0 down at home to local rivals Spurs with only five minutes of the first half remaining, and lady luck had really deserted them. Spurs had got their goals through a lucky deflection and a dive for a penalty from Gareth Bale. It would have been all too easy for the Arsenal players to decide that this was going to be their day before rolling over and playing dead.
Instead the Arsenal players got stuck in and played some brilliant football to blow Spurs away. They emerged with a fantastic 5-2 victory to put themselves right back in the hunt for a top four finish, and maybe even catch third placed Spurs. It was a performance to warm the hearts of Arsenal fans, and bring some belief back to them as well as the players.
Their next challenge was a trip to Anfield to take on a Liverpool team who were unbeaten at home, and had won the Carling Cup the previous weekend. Arsenal were under the cosh for the entire first half, and Liverpool were clearly the better team on the day. However, Arsenal emerged with a 2-1 victory thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, and the deadly finishing of Robin van Persie.
The team finally seems to have the belief and determination that they were so often found wanting for in the past. There is little or no chance of them progressing against Milan tonight, but I'm sure they will give their all in an attempt to rescue the tie. The biggest problem for Arsenal on the night could be their ever increasing injury list yet again.
The latest team news would suggest Mikael Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and Abu Diaby will all be unavailable, and Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky are major doubts for the game. It will mean Arsene Wenger has very few options available to him in midfield, and he will have to seriously consider his midfield options. He might just have to play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in front of Alex Song and Rosicky if Rosicky is fit to play.
Hopefully Gibbs can play and the defence will be the same as it was on Saturday, but that is the same defence which crumbled away to Milan. If Gibbs is injured it would probably see the inclusion of Ignasi Miquel at either left-back or in a central role. Arsenal would have a tough job with a full strength team, but their injury problems only make things harder for them.
At least there are no worries over the attacking players, and Wenger says Robin van Persie will play from the start. I would imagine that he will be flanked by Theo Walcott and Gervinho, and Arsenal should hopefully have a genuine goal threat. Their chances of scoring a minimum of four goals are very limited though.
It's a double-edged sword for Arsenal because they could be very exposed if they throw everything at Milan. If they don't go for it from the start their chances of progressing are even less, but I honestly can't see them overturning a four goal deficit. I think a win on the night for Arsenal would at least be a morale booster, and hopefully their patched together team can achieve that.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with just a little bit of pride restored for the players and fans alike. The most important thing in my opinion is for Arsenal to get through the game without any more injuries. Their next Premier League game is in six days time at home to Newcastle United.
By the time Arsenal play that game the teams around them will all have played, and they will know exactly what they have to do. As long as they keep winning games in the Premier League third place is a real possibility, and it has to be their goal rather than an almost impossible task against Milan. If Arsenal were to get a couple of early goals tonight anything is possible, but I won't be holding my breath waiting for a miracle.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.