In an exciting and attacking game, Arsenal prevailed 4-2 over AC Milan and, in doing so, finished third in this prestigious Al Kass Tournament.
On a beautiful sunny day at the Aspire Zone, this was a battle of European giants that many would have tipped for the final. Alas, it was not to be. Arsenal had lost their semi-final narrowly to PSG by two goals to one while AC had suffered a 5-0 mauling to Sao Paulo.
Arsenal fielded a strong team with few changes. The speedy Willock was restored to the starting line-up after being suspended for the PSG game, and in the game’s early stages it was the Gunners who gained the initiative, cruising to a two-goal lead in the first ten minutes.
The first was scored by Edward Nketiah on the rebound after Willock’s strong shot was parried into his path by AC’s stand-in keeper Luca Crosta. The second goal came soon after, on eight minutes, after Nathan Tella ran strongly down the right then cut back for striker Pelanda Dasilva to crash the ball home. AC were staring down the barrel and it seemed that they might suffer another humiliation to rival their heavy semi-final loss to the Brazilians.
Milan striker Juvenal Agnero, who came into this game as joint top scorer with Franco Lopez of River Plate and Stephy Mavididi of Arsenal, toiled up front as Arsenal’s backline repeatedly laid the offside trap. However, on 16 minutes AC midfielder Tommaso Pobega came close to scoring with a rasping shot from just outside the area. Arsenal goalkeeper Hugo Keto did well to stretch and palm the ball wide of the post.
Keto had enjoyed a great tournament and was continuing this fine form. Meanwhile, Willock was showing what Arsenal had missed in the semi-final, with his powerful runs down the left keeping AC right-back Raul Zucchetti on his toes.
Milan, spurred on by their ever-passionate coach Riccardo Monguzzi, began to get a grip on the midfield and their busy style pressed Arsenal back into their own half. On the 34th minute, AC’s Samuel Careccia shimmied through the opposition defence past three defenders, and his inventive chip beat the Arsenal goalkeeper but cannoned off the bar. Milan were making a spirited attempt at a comeback but Arsenal held strong and saw out the first half with their two-goal lead intact.
Mavididi was introduced at the start of the second period for captain Benjamin Sheaf, with Harry Donovan also replacing Nathan Tella, and Arsenal quickly punished Milan again. A cross from the left by the industrious Willock found Nketiah and his powerful header gave Crosta no chance. Milan were reeling now, and five minutes later the Rossoneri were punished again. A slick Arsenal move started with Donovan knocking the ball on to Mavididi who found Pelinda Dasilva. He dispatched a precise shot into the bottom corner to make it 4-0. Mavididi was causing havoc and AC couldn’t seem to handle his strength.
Then on 65 minutes, after some pressing, Milan scored. A cross from substitute Marcello Jones was met with a precise stooping header by Cosimo La Ferrara at the far post to make it 4-1. Then, to their chagrin, Arsenal conspired to undo their great work and give AC some hope of an improbable comeback. Centre back Marcus Tabi inexplicably passed the ball across his own area to La Ferrara who fed substitute Vladislav Zhikov to make it 4-2.
Milan had earned the nickname ‘Comeback Kings’ for their exploits earlier in the competition, and it briefly looked as though they might achieve the near impossible by recovering a four goal deficit as Arsenal began to wobble.
On 74 minutes Agnero broke through on goal only to see his shot saved by the legs of Keto, the ball anxiously cleared by an Arsenal backline who were hanging on for dear life. Willock’s early influence had diminished as he too was pressed back by Milan’s determined forward play. With time running down the Rossoneri continued to bombard the Arsenal defence, but the Gunners found the necessary steel to keep them at bay and claim victory.
Both sides had given strong showings in this fantastic tournament, only to fall short when the prize was almost within reach. No doubt they will learn a great deal from this experience and hopefully come back stronger next year.