Home » Champ League, Latest » CL Match Report: Arsenal 3 AC Milan 0; 3-4 on agg

It was one comeback too far. Arsenal’s performance touched on the exquisite in the first-half yet the agonising failure tasted the same way. No team in Champions League history has overturned a four-goal first-leg deficit and that remains the case. Arséne Wenger’s braves, though, gave it one hell of a roll.

This team has refused to bow in recent weeks. In each of their previous three Premier League matches, they had come from behind to win, most memorably in the derby against Tottenham Hotspur. And when they hurled off the shackles that had inhibited them in the first-leg of this last 16 tie to take a three-goal half-time lead, the platform was in place for an I-was-there evening.

Arsenal emerged with European pride restored; together with the continuation of recent progress, which ought to set them fair for a return to this competition next season. But in the second-half, they ran out of ideas against a Milan team that belatedly recovered its composure. The Italians have been scarred from seemingly unassailable positions in the Champions League. Think Deportivo La Coruña 2004 and Liverpool 2005. Arsenal 2012 almost checked into the hall of shame.

Wenger had been almost ludicrously bullish on the eve of the tie. There was, he had said, a “real possibility” that his team could prove that the seemingly impossible was possible; if Milan could score four at home, so could Arsenal. This time, he added, the game would be staged on a “real football pitch,” a dig at the relaid surface at San Siro. Momentum had built behind his players; they had scored 12 goals in their previous two home games.

For all the nothing-to-lose rhetoric, it had felt inconceivable at kick-off that the top club in Serie A could capitulate, despite their previous for tossing away three-goal leads. Never mind the Champions League statistic, only three teams in the history of European knock-out football had managed to over-turn four-goal deficits – Real Madrid and Partisan Belgrade in the Uefa Cup and the Portuguese club Leixoes in the Cup Winners’ Cup. But Wenger and his men are nothing if not hopeless romantics.

If only they could get an early goal, mused the optimists and they did just that, as Milan betrayed signs of defensive brittleness. Mark van Bommel had already been booked for a foul on Tomas Rosicky that meant he would be suspended for the next game when he failed to track Laurent Koscienly from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s viciously inswinging corner. Van Bommel was not helped by his teammate Philippe Mexès, who lost his bearings and blocked him off. Koscielny profited to head in from close-range.

The crowd was energised; ditto those in red shirts. Milan were stricken, Robinho epitomising the mood with a stray back pass to Rosicky, from which Arsenal failed to make capital. Robin van Persie flickered, working the goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, before the occasion was ignited by the second goal.

Once again, the defending was dire; battle-hardened Serie A teams are simply not supposed to concede like this. Theo Walcott’s low cross from the right looked harmless but Thiago Silva’s clearance was directed weakly at Rosicky, lurking just inside the area. The in-form Czech measured a cool side-footed finish inside the near post. The passion of the celebrations reflected the feeling that Milan could be taken. The visitors were prisoners in their shells.

Hope turned to conviction upon the third. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s burst into the area was checked illegally by Djamel Mesbah and Van Persie did what he does from the spot. The longer he was forced to delay by Van Bommel, his international team-mate, the more a certainty it became that he would score.

Wenger did not want the first-half to end. The TV cameras picked out a banner claiming ‘It’s up for grabs now,’ and the sense that it could be Arsenal’s night hardened when Stephan El Shaarawy, the Milan prodigy with the rock star’s haircut, fluffed a golden chance in the 45th minute.

The emotion coursed the veins of those involved; Wenger was consumed in body and soul. The fear was that Arsenal could not maintain the intensity in the second-half and Milan did emerge in more compact fashion. Then again, it would have been difficult for them to have been any more inept. Zlatan Ibrahimovic showed up and Milan made in-roads into Arsenal territory.

It felt as though the next goal would win it and Arsenal were dramatically close to scoring it in the 59th minute. Rosicky led a break and Abbiati produced a double save to repel Gervinho’s deflected shot and Van Persie’s close-range rebound.

Arsenal diced with death. Wojciech Szczesny’s dreadful clearance gave Ibrahimovic a sighting and his shot fizzed just wide while Antonio Nocerino somehow diverted a poke from three yards back at the goalkeeper, when half of the net was empty. Milan, though, got over the line.

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