In this week's Mills & Boom column, I give my views on Arsenal's near-miss on a miraculous comeback against AC Milan. Arsene Wenger's men fought bravely, but was the lack of a strong squad pivotal to their failure? And is an impressive week just papering over the cracks for the Gunners?
I also discuss Chelsea's managerial future. Would owner Roman Abramovich be willing to swallow his pride and accommodate the long-awaited return of the Special One, Jose Mourinho?
Give my latest offering a read and let me know your thoughts in the comments box below - Danny.
Glorious failure for gutsy Gunners
It's been described as a glorious failure for Arsenal, and I find that to be the pertinent phrase to emanate from Arsenal's 4-3 aggregate loss to AC Milan in the Champions League last-16 on Tuesday. It was almost an incredible comeback from the Gunners, and Arsenal were clearly in the ascendancy when they'd clawed it back to 3-0 at half-time. They had a great opportunity to just drive on at a vulnerable Milan defence in the second half and at least take the game to extra-time, but I was a little disappointed with how the game unfolded. Half-time was clearly the pivotal moment, as the referee's whistle would have been the last thing that Arsenal's players had wanted to hear at that point, as it gave Milan a clear chance to regroup. Arsenal, in the second half though, just struggled to keep hold of the ball. While they bombarded the Milan goal in the first half, there was few moments of impetus in the second.
First-leg collapse was key
It was undeniably a valiant effort by the Gunners. Had the first-leg capitulation not occurred and Milan had been kept to just two goals, we'd be talking about a famous Arsenal victory and progression to the quarter-finals. With such a brilliant, pulsating first half under their belts at the Emirates, Arsenal just didn't want their momentum to be destroyed by half-time. Milan's near-collapse was eerily similar to Liverpool's Champions League final victory in 2005, and in this game the momentum remained with Liverpool when they needed it the most. Milan were much more calculated when given the chance to regain their composure during the break, and even carved out some chances for themselves.
Rockin' Robin can't be blamed for miss
The key moment of the second half was the Robin van Persie miss. The Dutchman perhaps tried to be a little too clever at that stage, but who can blame him? He's the best striker in the Premier League and in blistering form, but a good old-fashioned smash into the back of the net would have been the better option for the striker as opposed to the deft dink. While van Persie believes himself that he made the right decision with the finish, I'd have to disagree. Had the ball ended up in the back of the net he'd have a case to argue, but considering he missed it's hard to say that the decision was the correct one. You can't fault van Persie though, as the striker has carried Arsenal throughout this season with some incredible form.
Arsenal's problem clear to see
The game evidenced a chasm in class between Arsenal's first-team and their substitutes though. At a time when fresh legs were needed, Arsene Wenger had the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young at his disposal. That's clearly not good enough for a team in their position. Neither looked up to Premier League standard, never mind Champions League knockout stage standard. That lack of strength in depth cost Arsenal. If you look at any top team in Europe they are able to replace any player with an equal. Arsenal don't have that capability, and when injuries to the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott crept in, Arsenal were in trouble. The Gunners could perhaps have sacrificed their philosophy just this once and launched some long balls to pressurise the Milan defence? They didn't take this option however, and the quality of Wenger's squad and the strength in depth of the players has become a major issue.
Strong Ox developing brilliantly
Oxlade-Chamberlain, as we've mentioned, was so important for Arsenal. Graeme Souness compared the young England star to Wayne Rooney, and it certainly is interesting to monitor the two players' development. Oxlade-Chamberlain has incredible pace, he wants to attack players and seems to be a very intelligent footballer; characteristics that stood out during Wayne Rooney's earlier years. 'The Ox' is showing serious signs of developing into an excellent player with such talents. It has taken him a little bit of time to come into first-team contention, and Wenger has dealt with him brilliantly. The Frenchman does of course have previous, having polished so many diamonds in the past. Will Oxlade-Chamberlain be the next in a long line?
Victories papering over the cracks?
While Arsenal have had a week to remember with pivotal league victories and Tuesday's win, the fact is that this could well be the seventh successive season with no trophies. Surely then, these victories are only papering over the cracks for Wenger? Arsenal now have to put all of their efforts into securing that fourth spot as it is absolutely vital. Wenger himself will maybe even decide that, come the end of the season, he's taken this club as far as he can. He's changed so much at the club, but now it all depends on Arsenal's attitude from this point.
Di Matteo comments understandable
With Chelsea's important 2-0 win over Birmingham in the FA Cup, interim manager Roberto di Matteo has dedicated the win to former manager Andre Villas-Boas. While some seem unhappy over the Italian's post-match comments, it's clear to see why he's made them. The former Chelsea man was brought to the club at a similar time to the ill-fated manager after all, and he was part of the pressure that Villas-Boas had endured. A relationship has clearly and understandably been built between the two, so why it is impossible to suggest that di Matteo could make these statements? It's simply a mark of respect.
Are Chelsea genuinely united?
That first win for any new manager is always difficult though, but is di Matteo really any different to Villas-Boas? The Portuguese maestro was barely given enough time at Stamford Bridge, and is di Matteo really an improvement? While di Matteo has come out and issued reports of dressing room unrest, stating that the squad is united, what else is he going to say? There were stories of high-profile players clashing with Villas-Boas, and the players might feel as if they've won after his sacking, but they're professionals. They are paid to go out and perform week-in week-out, but the disruption and dissention has caused problems at Chelsea and cost a man his job.
Roberto has no chance
I don't think di Matteo has much chance at all of making the Chelsea job his post permanently. The owner, Roman Abramovich, has already had his fingers burnt by a promising young manager in Villas-Boas, and while di Matteo is a fantastic coach, there's a huge difference between that and being a great manager. He had a reasonable period at West Brom and has some experience in management, but not enough for Abramovich or Chelsea. Abramovich will want a top name with top experience to bring home the holy grail - the Champions League.
Could Abramovich go back for Mour?
With that in mind, the list of managerial candidates will surely include former manager Jose Mourinho. Although the two parted ways on poor terms during his last tenure, Abramovich craves success. Mourinho brought that success to Stamford Bridge, but Mourinho perhaps became even more important to Chelsea than the owner did, which may well have caused the tensions. But Abramovich could well decide that if he wants success, a slice of humble pie will be on the menu. However, even if the Russian billionaire does beg for Mourinho to return, would the Portuguese manager take up the offer? It'd be an immensely difficult feat to emulate his last success there, and it's a very different team. It'd certainly be an interesting relationship to watch unfold if Mourinho is appointed.
Huge list of candidates for Chelsea
There are other candidates for Chelsea however. Barcelona supremo Pep Guardiola has been mooted, and he'd certainly be available if he fancied a new challenge. Abramovich wants a team to play, look like and win like Barcelona, but would Guardiola be tempted? Rafael Benitez is an outsider for me, as the Spaniard strikes me as a defensive-minded manager, something that could deter the owner. Fabio Capello has also been mentioned with his excellent club management record, but after his England tenure ended so abruptly would the Italian boss be able to manage the English superstars in the squad? David Moyes is an interesting link for me as well. His record may go against him having never had the opportunity to manage a top club. So while he's an incredibly talented coach, Moyes could perhaps be ruled out. The final candidate I've heard linked the most is Sven Goran-Eriksson. The Swede was involved with Abramovich's discussions on top players when the Russian bought Chelsea, and so perhaps the link has remained and Eriksson could be in a job in the near future?
Rangers situation horrendous
The breaking developments at Rangers, with shareholder Dave King claiming that "liquidation is inevitable", just goes to compound a horrendous situation. It was a similar story at Leeds, with a deal completed in the latest possible stages to save the club. Liquidation would obviously mean that the club are forced to reform as a phoenix club of sorts, but the potential investment and the fan-base would be enough to see them return soon. It's horrible to see a top club going down this root, so hopefully something positive will come of this. The last thing we want to see is a club the size of Rangers capitulate.
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