Fabio Capello has spent less than two months on his voyage of discovery in English football, but he has already made his mind up about the quality of Arsenal. The England manager described them yesterday as "one of the very top teams in Europe" and warned his former club Milan that they could not have a more difficult task when they visit the Emirates in the Champions League tomorrow.
There are some aspects of life in England upon which Capello is prepared to reserve judgement – the question of England's next captain for example – but when it comes to Arsenal he has already intimated that he would like his national team to play the same way as the Premier League leaders. He said yesterday the counter-attacking style of Arsène Wenger's team would be a challenge even for the European Cup holders and their weight of experience in the competition.
Capello said that Milan, whom he led to a Champions League triumph in 1994 and who lie fourth in Serie A with their two first-choice goalkeepers injured, would have to try to score an away goal to give themselves a chance. "Since the draw I've felt that Milan could not have got a worse proposition than Arsenal," Capello said. "I believe that at this time Arsenal are one of the very top teams in Europe. They combine great quality with great speed. They will be very different from the team beaten 4-0 at Old Trafford.
"Arsenal defend with 10 men and attack with six. They are a very well organised side, full of talented players. If you leave them any space, they counter-attack with four to five players at such pace that the opposition cannot figure out what's hitting them. Milan can count on their huge experience and, as I've said, they always give their best and more on such occasions. But to have a chance with Arsenal they'll have to be in top physical condition."
Carlo Ancelotti's team arrive in London today with Clarence Seedorf and Pato serious doubts for tomorrow's game. They have already lost their Brazilian goalkeeper Dida and his understudy Zeljko Kalac is suffering from a hand injury, which could mean a rare outing for the 38-year-old veteran Valerio Fiori, who has not played since December 2003. The World Footballer of the Year, Kaka, made a return in Sunday's 0-0 draw with Parma, during which Paolo Maldini came on for his 1,000th appearance for Milan. Ronaldo is out for the long term.
Capello said that Manchester United had managed to negate the threat of Cesc Fabregas in the FA Cup tie on Saturday, which had proved "a key factor for their dominance". He added: "We know that Milan can rise to the challenge in crucial matches, but this is a very difficult time to face Arsenal. But [Emmanuel] Adebayor, [Mathieu] Flamini, [Gaël] Clichy will be back against Milan, for a very different Arsenal team.
"They [Milan] will need their quality players in their best form, and it is vital for the likes of Kaka and Seedorf to recover in time. They will need a strong midfield to face Arsenal, [Andrea] Pirlo is a must. If Pato recovers in time it will be a big bonus for them. Arsenal have Adebayor on extraordinary form, but the whole team play great football. Milan will have to endeavour to score an away goal, which would give them a boost for the San Siro game."
Wenger's claims that his Arsenal team have played more matches so far this season than any other side in Europe – 42 games – will be his justification for such a half-hearted exit from the FA Cup at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, he should reap the benefits tomorrow with Adebayor, Clichy and Flamini all available. Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky could also be back in contention.