Well, good evening, everyone. Here’s something strange. I switched on the television at 7.30, and (lo and behold) ITV1 is showing Manchester United vs Lyon – a match which is surely a nailed-on home win. Fortunately, the considerably more interesting match between Milan and Arsenal is on ITV4, so we’re not limited to watching Rooney and Tevez (or whoever) smashing in a hat-trick each against the hapless French champions, and can instead settle down and, hopefully, learn a little more about whether Arsenal are genuine contenders to be the champions of Europe or not. To be fair to them (and this may be the only time that I manage that all evening), they’ve got their work cut out against the current world and European champions. Milan may be faltering somewhat in the league at the moment (they dropped points at the weekend, allowing Fiorentina to open up a bit of a gap in fourth place, and meaning that Milan may have to win this competition in order to qualify for it next season), but they’re packed with experience and, you could argue, save themselves like this. The teams line up as follows:
Milan – Kalac, Maldini, Kaladze, Nesta, Oddo, Ambrosini, Pirlo, Gattuso, Pato, Kaka, Inzaghi.
Arsenal – Almunia, Clichy, Senderos, Gallas, Sagna, Diaby, Fabregas, Eboue, Hleb, Adebayor.
There are also three other Champions League matches, as well as a full schedule of matches in the Championship and the Conference. We’ll see how well I get on at keeping you updated on all of that as well. Back in a few minutes!
7.45: And they’re off! They don’t mess about in the Champions League. Milan in red and black, and Arsenal are wearing white and burgundy.
7.51: GOAL! Not in this match, though. Barcelona have scored in the first couple of minutes against Celtic. So that’s their lot then. Arsenal haven’t won any of their last four matches and Milan are in pretty poor form as well. Pato gets down the left hand side and his shot is deflected wide.
7.53: Arsenal are on the rack already. In a piece defending reminiscent of “Rourke’s Drift”, Almunia and Fabregas scramble a header away.
7.58: Breaking from nowhere, Diaby shoots just wide when, to be honest, he should have scored. Arsenal have settled down a bit, now. Meanwhile, Sevilla are two up on Fenerbahce and Bristol City are a goal down at Charlton (not in the Champions League, as you might have guessed).
8.04: The God-bothering Brazilian, Kaka, carries the ball forty yards, and the crosses for Pato, who can’t get the ball under control and shoots straight at Almunia. A few seconds later, a last minute tackle from Diaby shepherds the ball away for a corner.
8.10: Fun European football fact – Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa are the only English clubs to have won all of the domestic English cup competitions plus the European Cup. Fenerbahce have pulled one back in Seville and Partick Thistle have taken the lead against Livingston. Good old Partick.
8.15: Arsenal are continuing to push forward, and have forced one decent save out of Kalac, but Milan look well-organised defensively and exceptionally dangerous on the break. Otherwise (and I think I’ve done well to not mention this already), I’m wondering somewhat what all the fuss is about. Hleb is booked for taking a dive on the edge of the Milan penalty area.
8.19: Fabregas hits the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area, It’s all Arsenal now, and it looks like only a matter of time before they score.
8.25: Somebody must have put something in the tea at Kidderminster, where the home team are 4-0 up in their Conference match against Stafford Rangers. Arsenal, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, are trying to pass the ball into the net in the San Siro. I think that I may have spotted the fatal flaw in Arsene’s plan, there.
8.30: Arsenal have shaded the first half, but I think that would be foolish to expect them to win from here. I don’t watch Arsenal live that much, and I can see why people get so damn infuriated with them when they’re not winning, because they look so dangerous until they’re twenty yards from goal, and Kaka and Pato are plenty capable of turning it on at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, Manchester United have scored against Lyon and Sevilla are 3-1 up on Fenerbahce. Half-time, and it’s goalless – back in fifteen minutes.
8.48: The second half starts here. Elsewhere, Brighton have come from a goal down to lead Gillingham 3-1 at the Withdean. Their push for the League One play-offs starts here. No changes for either wide at half-time, by the way (and by that I mean Milan and Arsenal, not Brighton and Gillingham).
8.52: Eboue misses a sitter after an atrocious pass across the edge of the penalty area by Pirlo lets him in. Meanwhile, this gem from the BBC Videprinter: SENT OFF: Barnet, Puncheon, Violent Conduct (34).
9.00: Boring, boring Arsenal. They’re going to bloody nick this, aren’t they? 1-0, probably. And then everyone will go on about “what a great thing it is for English football”, and so on. Which it isn’t. There aren’t any English players in the Arsenal team, and there’s only one on the bench. Wenger isn’t so stupid that he’d pick English players.
9.05: At the risk of stating the obvious, Kaka is amazing, isn’t he? He just burst down the left hand side at the speed of a greyhound on steroids, before pulling his shot badly wide. Clive Tyldesley’s Arsenal-fellating is starting to grate, somewhat. I’d stick the Radio 5 commentary on, but I don’t think it would be any better. Bristol City have equalized at Charlton, and Oxford United are losing 2-1 at home to Cambridge United in the Definitely Not Varsity Match in the Conference (only fools and journalists call the football match a Varsity Match, because both clubs have more or less nothing to do with their cities’ respective universities).
9.10: Eboue runs across Maldini and goes down with the ball running out of play. Beglin and Tyldesley splutter indignantly, but it would have been an absolute scandal had a penalty have been awarded for that. Achtung! Achtung! Theo Walcott’s coming on for Arsenal! Sometimes, I get the feeling that Wenger only plays Walcott because he feels duty-bound to try and get £10m worth of value out of him.
9.13: Two substitutions – Pirlo is replaced by Gilardino for Milan, and Eboue is the man to go off for Walcott. Paolo Maldini won his first Serie A championship in 1988, a year before Walcott was born. He’s retiring at the end of the season, but I reckon that he could still do a job for Brighton next season, even though he’ll be 40 by then.
9.17: Five seconds of panic in the Milan six yard box, which results in Walcott miscuing a shot at Kalac. If he’d been on the pitch five minutes longer, he’d have scored that.
9.21: The Duck (for that, of course, is Alexandre Pato’s nickname) nearly nicks it for Milan. He cuts in from the right and his shot is deflected wide. He looks appropriately outraged when the referee gives a goal kick. Kaka then gets booked for seeing how high he can bounce the ball off the turf after a throw in doesn’t go their way.
9.25: Is the pitch at the San Siro completely surrounded by artificial turf? If so, why is this?
9.26: GOAL – Milan 0-1 Arsenal: Oh, cock and balls. Fabregas shoots from thirty yards and the ball almost dribbles into the bottom corner. I’m blaming Kalac for that. There’ll be no coming back from this, surely.
9.29: Let’s focus on the good news. Firstly, this has been a pretty poor game, and at least we’ll be spared extra-time. Secondly, this has been a poor, poor Milan performance (the rise to pre-eminence of English clubs in Europe has coincided with a fall off in the quality of many club sides in Europe). Thirdly, Arsenal haven’t won anything this season yet.
9.33: GOAL: Milan 0-2 Arsenal: Adebayor taps in from five yards out, and the ITV commentators are talking, frankly, embarrassing bollocks. Beglin is talking about them having given Milan a “master-class” in the first half, whilst Tyldseley is talking about this being “one of the great performances” and “a historic win”. Bullshit, has it been. They have been the better team against a Milan side that hasn’t really turned up, but they’ve scored two late goals, the first of which the goalkeeper should have saved and the second of which came about because Milan were pushing forward. It was a decent enough performance, but if this Arsenal team is the best team in Europe, then European football is in a terminal decline.