Arsenal: AC Milan resurgence comes at wrong time for Wenger

(Photo credit: Maarten Van Damme)

Vincenzo Montella’s sacking as AC Milan boss at the end of November was inevitable, but the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso was not. Even less predictable was the run of form the Italian giants have embarked upon since the former fiery midfielder took his place in the hot seat. With their season previously appearing a write-off, positivity has now been rekindled and cup success now looks a genuine possibility.

The great Milanese turnaround

The Rossoneri face Arsenal in the Europa League on the back of an unbeaten 13-game streak, winning their last six outings (one was a penalty shootout). They have reached the final of the Coppa Italia and outside of runaway duo Napoli and Juventus, are the form side in Italy. 

Milan’s recent 2-0 victory at Roma was widely lauded as the club’s finest performance in many years, as they outclassed the division’s third best side in a stunning display.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gattuso’s men remain a lowly seventh in the Serie A standings, an indicator of the mess the former Rangers midfielder inherited from predecessor Montella. 

In the first half of the season, the Milanese giants lost to each of the six sides above them in the standings. They also suffered the indignity of Benevento goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli equalising in the last minute (for a first point of the season, in December) and a 3-0 defeat at Hellas Verona.

A 2-0 reverse at home to Atalanta on 23 December made it a blue Christmas for the club’s fans yet their form since has been a staggering turnaround. 

Their 13-match unbeaten run started with victory over city rivals Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia while they have also avenged their league defeats to Roma and Lazio, the latter of whom they eliminated from the Coppa semifinal last week.

Gattuso’s 4-3-3 formation has worked a treat and despite their summer of excess spending, it is youth product Patrick Cutrone who has provided the main goal threat. Nikola Kalinic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura have all hit form, while the central defensive partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Romagnoli providing the base which many Milan fans had hoped for. The Rossoneri have conceded only four goals in their last 13 outings and have six successive clean sheets.

No spark for Gunners

This sits in sharp contrast to their Europa League opponents, whose hapless recent form has cranked up the pressure on under-fire boss Arsene Wenger. 

Sunday’s defeat at Brighton was Arsenal’s eighth of the calendar year and their fourth loss in the space of 11 days.  Along with comprehensive defeats to Manchester City (twice) and Tottenham, the Gunners have also lost to Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, Swansea and Ostersunds since the turn of the year.

Which giant will fall?

Only Real Madrid have greater European pedigree than AC Milan, who have won Europe’s premier club competition on seven occasions. The club have a total of 14 European trophies, yet have never triumphed in the Europa League – or it’s old UEFA Cup equivalent – and see this season as an ideal opportunity to do so.

Atletico Madrid may well be the favourites to lift the crown in May but both Milan and Arsenal are among the competition’s favourite. One will be eliminated before the quarterfinal stage and if the form book is anything to go by, fans of the North London club may not see their mood uplift anytime soon. 

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