Silva: Henry is incomparable
Robin van Persie may have been the hotshot in the Premier League throughout 2011 and is top scorer so far this season but AC Milan centre-back Thiago Silva is more worried about veteran Thierry Henry. The Brazilian will be tasked with trying to keep Arsenal's vivacious forwards at bay during the UEFA Champions League second round, first leg at the San Siro tomorrow.
Van Persie scored 35 Premier League goals in 2011, beating the 34 mark set by Henry during his first Arsenal spell in 2004 and finishing just one shy of Alan Shearer's all time figure of 36, for Blackburn in 1995. But it is Henry, who has been used almost exclusively as a substitute by manager Arsene Wenger in this his second spell at the club, who concerns him the most.
The 34-year-old has scored three goals in the last six weeks, including two winners, most recently on Saturday at Sunderland. "He's a player who's had a great history not just with Arsenal but also with France," said Silva. "We must be careful because in every game where he comes on he does well. If you give him a little space he will certainly score, he has incomparable quality."
It's not just about Henry or Van Persie, though, as Silva acknowledges Arsenal are more than a one-man band, as many in the British press like to claim. And Milan are adamant that they must keep things tight in the home leg so as not to let the north Londoners leave with an away goal.
"Against Arsenal we must make as few mistakes as possible. It's played over 180 minutes but if we mess up at home, we're out," said Silva. "They've got a great team and great players but it's not just about Van Persie. If you talk about just one player today then maybe tomorrow it will be another one (who's grabbed the headlines), we have to be careful about everyone."
Milan's recent record against English opposition, particularly at home, is abysmal. They have not won in their last seven matches against the English, including losing three home games in a row. The last three years they have been knocked out at this stage of the Champions League by Premier League teams, starting with Arsenal three years ago, followed by Manchester United and then Tottenham last season.
"The most important thing is to improve on what we did last year but psychology doesn't come into it," said coach Massimiliano Allegri when asked whether his side had a mental block when it comes to playing the English. It's an important game that will be played over 180 minutes and we must play attentively, play well technically and not make mistakes.
"Last year we made mistakes in the second half against Tottenham on the counter, which is their strength. We must improve in defence and try to play well in attack, as always in any match. We have to be careful because if we concede at home it makes the return more difficult."
And having been punished by Tottenham on the counter last year, Allegri is wary of a similar thing happening against Arsenal's pacey forwards. "We have to play with a lot of intensity, which means not giving away counters because that's their strength," he said. "Arsenal are playing well, they're coming back well (after a poor start to the season) and they're very dangerous in attack.
"Last year we played well in both games, we made a huge mistake in the second half (of the first leg) but in the second leg we deserved to win and progress. One of Arsenal's greatest strengths is their pace, especially if they have space then they can express their main characteristic."