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Monday 11 December 2017

Ageing San Siro hosts keen to teach Gunners' boys lesson in experience

AGE Shall Not Weary Them has long seemed the unofficial motto of Milan.

It is an ethos put into effective practice at the club's sheltered training ground, Milanello, in the hills 50km outside the city, where it would be no surprise to discover a grey-haired, grizzled portrait of Paolo Maldini hidden in the basement beneath the players' lounge.

This is, though, a different Milan from the heyday of Maldini, Franco Baresi et al when European titles and Scudettos were returned to San Siro with enough regularity to satisfy even Silvio Berlusconi's prodigious appetite.

The European Cup has not been seen -- at least on the Rossoneri side of the stadium -- for five years, and while the Serie A crown was regained last season it was a first for seven years.

Memories of elimination by English clubs at the last-16 stage in their last three Champions League campaigns hang heavy over the club.

A late rally to beat Udinese last Sunday returned Massimiliano Allegri's side to the top of the table but they have not regained the summit on a spur of optimism, rather the scrappy success in Udine interrupted talk of a slump that has seen convincing form elude Milan over recent weeks.

The victory was a first in four games. Juventus sit a point behind, having played two games fewer.

The mood around San Siro has become one of gritty realism.

This is a club that during the transfer window borrowed Sulley Muntari from their neighbours, Inter, a player who had been lent to Sunderland during the previous mid-season window.

They also took on loan the Argentinian striker Maxi Lopez, who came off the bench to dramatic effect against Udinese, and they spent a minimal amount on Djamel Mesbah, an Algerian left-back from Lecce.

Reinforcements were desperately needed for a squad that has been beset by injury problems, including losing striker Antonio Cassano for the foreseeable future as he undergoes heart surgery.

Thirteen players were unavailable for the Udinese game.

It leaves a heavy reliance on a core of men undergoing the last rites of illustrious careers.



Formidable

Alessandro Nesta, the formidable centre-half, is 35 and injury is starting to take its toll. Gianluca Zambrotta, once one of the world's most exciting full-backs, is 34, as are Mark van Bommel and Massimo Ambrosini. Clarence Seedorf is a year older.

Suggestions that Arsenal are facing Papa's Army do not go down well in Milan.

"It's not particularly helpful to say the two games against Arsenal is a story of Arsene Wenger's kids against the Milan old guard," said Van Bommel, as combative as ever.

"Milan is not a retirement home for old players, you know. The technical quality in our side is amazing and, believe me, we can play with as much exuberance and freshness as anyone when we are at our best."

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