Arsenal are recovering their form after a January blip which saw them drop nine points in the race for fourth place. A 7-1 win over Blackburn, and more recently a 2-1 win over Sunderland means that the club are maintaining their position at the fringes of the European places, in a race which may well define the medium term future of the club, when qualification is considered in terms of the potential for contract renewal of players like Robin Van Persie.
However, the focus now turns to the two remaining cup competitions, the Champions League and the FA Cup. The second round tie against AC Milan in the Champions League kicks off on Wednesday in the San Siro, whilst Arsenal return to the Stadium of Light following Henry’s late winner last weekend, for a cup tie in football’s oldest competition. You can buy Arsenal tickets here for both matches to show your support for the team. However, in the build-up to the two games the key question remains – what effect will these games have on the Arsenal, and is there a pattern in terms of a so-called ‘European hangover’?
AC Milan and the San Siro hold mixed memories for Arsenal, in recent years the club have seen two memorable victories in the sweltering cauldron of the Guiseppe Meazza. Henry scored two against Inter in 2003, as the side who became the Invincibles beat them 5-1 in a surprise away win. Three of the goals that night came in the final five minutes. Henry’s second was particularly notable as he ran the length of the pitch, tricked Javier Zanetti and finished neatly.
Arsenal’s most recent Champions League match up against AC in the San Siro was also a Second Round fixture and ended in a 2-0 victory in 2008, when ex-captain Cesc Fabregas led the scoring, with a wonderful goal from 30 yards out. Meanwhile, four months later Mathieu Flamini would relocate to the San Siro as he left Arsenal’s central midfield berth on a free transfer.
The game in Milan this year will be a challenge for the Arsenal side. In between two away trips to Sunderland this is a rather gruelling week for the players. Though AC have played two games more than Juve, they top Serie A, and this is based on impressive home form, where they have lost just one match and conceded just five goals. Like Arsenal, they came from behind at the weekend, beating Udinese 2-1.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the main threat in terms of goals, and members of this Arsenal side will have experienced his scoring ability, having played against him at Barcelona in the Champions League. The game is bound to be a fascinating encounter, and you still have time to buy your tickets online courtesy of TicketBis.
The European Hangover?
Following the match in the San Siro, the Sunderland match may see Arsenal suffering from a common aliment. The European hangover is a famous phenomenon, and an affliction which is at it’s worst when the game in question is in an away match against a northern team. This is the stuff of nightmares for the Arsenal, which is why the tie at Sunderland becomes even more important.
This season alone, when playing away after a Champions League tie Arsenal have lost 8-2 to Manchester Utd, 4-3 to Blackburn and 2-1 to Tottenham. An aggregate score of 14-6 combined from three of the worst defeats in Arsenal’s recent history.
Even last season during away games after playing in Europe, Arsenal drew 1-1 with Sunderland, lost 2-0 to Chelsea away, though they managed to beat Villa away, they were beaten at home by Newcastle.
However, as a cup game it is likely that Wenger will make some changes to the line-up which should make this interesting. The closest parallel in this case comes last season, where after playing Barcelona, Arsenal drew 1-1 with Leyton Orient away in the FA Cup. The team then faced Manchester United in the FA Cup after the second leg in Barcelona, and lost at Old Trafford 2-0.
How Wenger will cope remains to be seen, what is clear is that Arsenal’s two most likely chances of a trophy are waiting to be taken over the next week, but only if this side can buck the trend. It took a last minute Henry winner to take the points at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, can they do it next week without him? Even more importantly, will they gain the crucial away goal at the San Siro in midweek?