AC Milan v Arsenal: All you need to know – form guide, players to watch, preview and more
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Arsenal face AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League last-16 first-leg at the San Siro, but how have the Rossoneri fared this season and who should Arsenal be wary of? Read the Islington Gazette to find out more.
The season so far
Milan are seventh in Serie A – behind European places on goal difference – despite high expectations prior to the start of their campaign.
Vincenzo Montella started the campaign in the San Siro hot seat, and after spending £220 million on new players last summer, the club was expected to be challenging near the top of Serie A.
Signs seemed promising after four wins from their first five games, but three defeats on the bounce followed, before patchy league form led to Montella’s sacking in late November.
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The Italian did guide Milan safely through the Europa League group stages without losing a game during his tenure but was replaced by Milan legend Gennaro Gattuso – who stepped up from coaching the clubs youth sides.
The former Rossoneri midfielder struggled initially, winning just one of his first five games in charge, including an embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Rijeka in the final Europa League group game.
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Since losing 2-0 to Atalanta in Serie A on December 23, Milan have been on a 13-game unbeaten streak – winning their last six games without conceding a goal.
However, AC find themselves in exactly the same league position they were in when Montella was sacked, but progress has clearly been made on the pitch.
Players to watch
Young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has been one of the Rossoneri’s top performers this season, keeping 18 clean sheets and conceding just 34 goals in 38 appearances across all competitions.
There has been considerable speculation about the talented teenager’s future, with only today the club announcing in Italy former Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina has been signed from Napoli and will be joining Milan for pre-season training in August.
In front of Donnarumma, experienced central defender Leonardo Bonucci – signed for around £35m from Juventus last summer – has recovered from a shaky start to life in the Italian capital and looks close to returning to his best.
Further up the pitch, Franck Kessie and Giacomo Bonaventura have formed an effective midfield partnership, scoring 10 goals between them this season and picking up a combined seven assist.
Former Liverpool player Suso has been the standout performer for Milan this season, scoring eight goals and assisting a further 11 from his wide position.
Tricky and direct, Arsenal will need to keep a close eye on the Spaniard who has flourished since returning from Genoa on loan two seasons ago.
The 24-year-old has been capped by Spain at every level from U17 to the senior squad and will be one of the stars to watch during this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Patrick Cutrone has had a breakthrough season at the San Siro. The 20-year-old striker is in his debut campaign with the Milan first-team and has impressed with his 14 goals in all competitions this season.
Although he is yet to score in Serie A, fellow attacker Andre Silva has proved to be a reliable scorer on the European stage, scoring six goals in eight Europa League matches this season.
Wenger’s Arsenal are bidding to halt their streak in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie in a match which kids off at 6pm GMT, 7pm Milan time.
The Gunners have been beaten in their last four games, an unwanted statistic which last occurred 16 years ago in October 2002.
The North Londoners are missing the injured Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Alexandre Lacazette as record £56m signing in the January transfer window Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also cup-tied.
Jack Wilshere will be hoping to play against Milan again turning out for Bournemouth in a friendly against the Italian giants in September 2016 at the Vitality in a match which saw the visitors win 2-1.
Milan’s previous match saw them beat Lazio 5-4 on penalties as they won through to the Coppa Italia final having not let in a goal in their last half a dozen games.
Thursday’s match will be the seventh clash between the two sides. Both teams have won two, drawn two and lost two, with Milan just edging it in terms of goals for and against with six goals for and five conceded.