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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
How can two goalless draws be so different? Chelsea’s blank with Olympiakos on Wednesday morning was so desperately dull that it could have come straight from Dante’s sixth circle. This, though, was so different. Still no goals to write about, but it was never anything less than pulsating. Only The Emirates can serve up a nil-nil thriller. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise. There was so much talent on display here and so many legendary names on the field. This was football at its highest level.

The Gunners were dominant in possession throughout, but just lacked the killer touch to make it all count. Time and time again they tore through on goal, but every shot seemed to zero in on reserve goalkeeper Zelkjo Kalac‘s gloves. The Australian has only just recovered from dislocating a finger and must have expected to be severely tested by the Arsenal strikers, but the examination never materialised. Arsene Wenger could have stapled Kalac’s feet to the centre of the goal and he’d still have saved everything that came his way.

Arsenal were much improved from their weekend disappointment, though given how absolutely awful they were at Old Trafford, that isn’t saying very much. Back came the first choice full-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy and it made a world of difference. With Armand Traore and Justin Hoyte out of the picture, the nervous, rabbit-in-headlights style of defending was eliminated. Gone too was the endless procrastination on the edge of the box, searching for the perfect goal. Here, everything was whipped into the penalty area in the hope that Emmanuel Adebayor could get a head on it.

No chance. AC Milan have the meanest defence in Europe and they lapped up the barrage of deliveries. It’s easy to see why Rafa Benitez put up such a fight when the Gruesome Twosome refused to let him sign Kahka Kaladze in January. The Georgian centre-back was indomitable and rarely let Adebayor have more than a split second to decide what to do. He and the equally impressive Alessandro Nesta were steadfast in the face of an ongoing assault on their penalty area.

Carlo Ancelotti had dropped the veteran striker Filippo Inzahgi and replaced him with the much heralded Alexandre Pato and I’m delighted to tell you that his name means, quite literally, Alex the Duck. Unfortunately for Milan, barring a few nice touches, he didn’t quite take to the game like a…erm…you-know-what to water. He is quick and skilful to an almost supernatural degree, but the 18 year old didn’t find much room against William Gallas and Philippe Senderos, who replaced the injured Kolo Toure early on. He didn’t find any new friends in the stands either, the home support merciless in their criticism of his behaviour. He repeatedly crashed to the floor under the lightest of challenges and then stayed sat on the turf, sulking and holding the game up. When he was carried off with 15 minutes to go, the Arsenal fans howled in anger and quite rightly. As soon as the stretcher came to rest, Pato hopped up and took his seat on the bench. Not quite the lame…erm…well, you-know-what.

After Internazionale’s late capitulation at Anfield on the previous night, this Milan were determined not to yield. Adebayor’s late header may have finally eluded the clutches of Kalac, but instead of sealing the game, it hammered out off the crossbar instead. Arsenal were simply destined not to score. They stretched the European Cup holders more than most teams ever will, but without an assassin’s touch in the six yard box, they will travel to Italy in a fortnight, knowing that they have to score.

This was a good night’s work for Arsenal and a welcome recovery from their weekend debacle, but it will certainly go down as a missed opportunity. This is a glorious young football team, of that there is no question, but are they so good, so clinical and so composed that we can call them great? On March 4, at the San Siro, we will find out.