An in-form AC Milan side entertain Arsenal in the first-leg on the Europa League round of 16 tie on Thursday night.
The Rossoneri have turned their fortunes around under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, and they have gone unbeaten across all competitions in 2018. As a result, the former European champions are just seven points adrift Lazio for the final Champions League spot with a game in hand.
On the contrary, Arsene Wenger’s side have experienced very less in the positive point of view after succumbing to a fourth straight defeat across all competitions. The north London club are more or less out of the top-four hunt after falling 13 points behind arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and winning the Europa League appears their sole route to qualifying for next season’s Champions League group stage.
Three things to watch for:
Arsenal’s backline: The Gunners defence has been in shambles since the turn of the year, and their organisation over the past month, in particular, is unlikely to bring any sort of sympathy. Since the shock Ostersund defeat, the Capital outfit have conceded eight goals with the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi in central defence, and they could face another tough night on the road. There has been plenty of talk about leadership heading into the encounter, and Koscielny needs to instill confidence among the players with a solid start from the back at San Siro.
AC Milan’s defensive record: Only Napoli and Juventus have accumulated more points than Milan in the Serie A after the midway mark, and much of it has to do with their impressive record at the back. The Rossoneri have also progressed to the Italian Cup owing to their solid backline, and they have currently gone 584 minutes without letting the opposition find the scoresheet. Arsenal will be desperately looking for an away goal, which they could capitalise on in the return-leg, and it will be interesting to see how the centre-back pairing of Alessio Romagnoli, and Leonardo Bonucci cope with the Gunners’ quick passing football.
Danny Welbeck’s influence: The England international has struggled to find form since his return from a hip problem in February. Welbeck started the season in a relatively fine fashion as he contributed three goals in as many league games, but not much has gone the striker’s way since. Welbeck took the excuse of a 4G pitch for his average performance at Ostersund, but he was equally disappointing in the return-leg at the Emirates Stadium, where he failed to convert a one-on-one with the goalkeeper in a shock 2-1 defeat. Arsenal avoided the early scare to progress 4-2 on aggregate against the Swedish Cup champions – in the Europa League round of 32.