Arsene Wenger vs Gennaro Gattuso: A tale of two contrasting charactersby Chloe Beresford / 01 March 2018, 10:39Tweet
"It is our worst night in Europe," said Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger after a 4-0 battering in the first leg of Champions League last 16 tie versus Milan in 2012.
“We were punished and deservedly so. I felt we were never in the game, we were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see how we were beaten everywhere.”
The Gunners would go on to stage an impressive, if not sufficient 3-0 comeback at home in the second leg, Rossoneri goalkeeper Christian Abbiati just about managing to preserve his side’s aggregate win as the Italians advanced to the next stage.
There would be no doubt that the veteran boss Wenger would have been reminded of that defeat as the draw for this season’s Europa League round of 16 was made, Arsenal once again meeting with the San Siro giants in arguably the most exciting fixture of the round.
The opposition boss had cause to remember those fixtures in 2012 too, as former Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso played in both legs but – after retiring as a player in 2013 – he was appointed in the prestigious role of Coach of his former side in November 2017.
4 - Arsenal's 0-4 defeat at San Siro versus AC Milan in February 2012 is one of only four European games that they have lost by a margin of 4+ goals. Shocker. pic.twitter.com/25geG0u6EC— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 23, 2018
It may have seemed like an unusual choice, but Milan had been taken over by Chinese investors last summer, the newcomers having rolled the dice with a highly unusual business plan that was centred around achieving success on the pitch.
After overachieving on a shoestring budget the year before, Vincenzo Montella had come up short in terms of uniting the expensive and newly-assembled squad at the beginning of the season, and eyebrows were raised when Gattuso was brought in to replace him.
After all, “Rino” had no previous top flight experience before he took on such a high-profile role, many expecting him to fail just as previous former players such as Pippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf had done before him. Yet he has taken almost everyone by surprise in the way he has united his team, improving the performances of many in the side that had previously struggled as Milan remain unbeaten in the league throughout 2018.
“To be honest, I hoped Gattuso would do well, but I wasn’t certain,” former Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“When you come in mid-season, there are always unknown quantities, doubts and obstacles to overcome. Rino did well to dribble the difficulties and have the players follow him.”
Three months in charge of the side pales into insignificance compared to Wenger’s reign with the Gunners that has lasted since 1996, but the recent record of the Italian makes for much better reading than his more experienced counterpart. Arsenal have registered just two wins in their last seven league games and have lost four of their last six outings in all competitions, managing just one clean sheet throughout that same period.
Voices of displeasure over a failure to make a change in the dugout have been consistent in North London for some time, having gradually increased in intensity even going back as far as the aforementioned defeat to Milan in 2012. Wenger may have had a string of FA Cup trophies to his name, but has failed to win a European trophy in 22 years with the club and last won the league with the famous “invincibles” side in 2003/04.
Milan may have suffered from a large dip in their usual success rate in the last few years, but Gattuso won the Champions League twice during his tenure as a player at San Siro, as recently as 2002/03 and again in 2006/07. Those memories – along with his usual grit, hunger, motivational skills and a new-found tactical awareness – may be enough to bring success over a man that has certainly been around the block more than once.