It was a night reminiscent of their thrashing at Old Trafford as Arsenal suffered yet another humiliating defeat, completely outclassed by a decent AC Milan side 4-0 at the San Siro on Wednesday. Although the Gunners started brightly, Milan grew in stature and opened the scoring after just 15 minutes, with Kevin-Prince Boateng slotting home an excellent volley. Milan then began to dictate play and ended up doubling their tally in the 38th minute, with Robinho heading Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross into the back of the net.
While Arsenal would have hoped to improve in the second half, it was the hosts who continued to dominate with Robinho netting his second of the night in the 49th minute with a sweet strike from just outside the box. Arsenal never looked like scoring during the course of the game except for a few attempts by Robin van Persie that were saved quite comfortably by Christian Abbiati. With the second leg already looking like an uphill task, the Gunners made their lives even more difficult as Johan Djourou gave away a penalty in the 78th minute, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic converting from the spot. With four goals to their name, Milan have all but put the tie to bed and the Gunners will need a near miracle if they are to progress ahead of the Italians for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Italian champions AC Milan began with a 4-3-3 formation, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic operating in attack alongside Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who•had been among the goals lately due to his ability to catch defenders off-guard with his late runs. The midfield saw Mark van Bommel in his usual defensive role, with Clarence Seedorf and Antonio Nocerino assisting him. Milan’s defence had the usual suspects with Phillipe Mexes being preferred to Alessandro Nesta at the centre of defence alongside Thiago Silva, with Ignazio Abate on the right and Luca Antonini on the left.
Visitors Arsenal more or less fielded a full strength team, with the exception of Per Mertesacker, who missed out with an injury. Kieran Gibbs was drafted into the team in his place and was deployed in the left back position, with Bacary Sagna as the right back and Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny at the centre of defence. The midfield was familiar, with Mikel Arteta partnering Alex Song, while the trio of Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott operated ahead of them. Young speedster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a surprise omission from the starting eleven. Robin Van Persie meanwhile was as usual, spearheading the attack while Thierry Henry, for whom this was the last game in his short loan stint at Arsenal, began the match on the bench.
The pace of the match was quite quick in the opening exchanges, with both teams testing each other’s resolve with tentative runs forward. Arsenal though were looking a bit more adventurous and threatening in the final third. Arteta had an early shot on goal that went well wide, while Seedorf too tried his luck at the other end with a similar result.
Milan were slowly finding their rhythm although they seemed to be lacking creativity upfront and even suffered an early setback as Seedorf had to be substituted due to an injury with Urby Emanuelson replacing him. The substitute then managed to cause some confusion in Arsenal’s box after linking up with Robinho on the left, but the Gunners eventually managed to avert the danger.
Milan though did manage to open the scoring in the 15th minute, courtesy of a stunning volley by Boateng, who received a pass from Nocerino on his chest, before attempting a first time volley that eventually went in off the underside of the bar. Van Persie then had a half chance as he was released on the right, but his attempted cut back was bundled out for a throw in by Milan’s defence.
Nocerino tried his luck from just outside the box in the 20th minute and Arsenal breathed a sigh of relief as his shot whistled just over the bar. By this point Milan were completely in control, whereas the visitors were trying to hold on to the ball for too long and as a result were unable to take advantage of their superior pace. Milan had a golden chance to double their lead in the 36th minute as Robinho broke forward on the counter, although the Brazilian failed to find an unmarked Ibrahimovic as his pass was blocked by an alert Arsenal defence.
The second goal though did come in the 38th minute as Ibrahimovic showed great urgency with his run on the left and delayed his pass thereby timing it perfectly for Robinho, who in turn headed with aplomb past Szczesny. The half didn’t end very happily either for the Gunners as Koscielny limped off with an injury and had to be replaced by Johan Djourou. A terrific through ball by Ibrahimovic sent Boateng clear on goal in stoppage time, but the player missed out on his second of the night as his shot went wide off target. A late clash between Antonini and Szczesny was the last bit of action as Milan went into the dressing room with a convenient two goal lead.
Sensing a defeat, Arsene Wenger decided to make another change at half-time, with veteran striker Thierry Henry coming on for the largely ineffectual Theo Walcott. However, within 4 minutes of the restart, Milan scored their third goal of the match. Ibrahimovic passed to Robinho just outside the box and Vermaelen’s slip allowed the striker to shoot, with the ball speeding past the outstretched hands of Szczesny into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Lagging three goals behind, Arsenal’s chances of staying in the competition were looking very slim, especially with the hosts unrelenting with their attacks despite their lead. Boateng could’ve put the final nail in Arsenal’s proverbial coffin in the 56th minute but lost control of the ball at a crucial point thereby wasting a good chance. Three minutes later Robinho led a counter and fed Antonini with the ball, but the full-back’s shot was poor.
Van Persie saw an effort saved by Abbiati in the 66th minute after a wonderful layoff by Henry presented him with a chance. Wenger then threw on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Gibbs in an attempt to add more options upfront and salvage the situation. Though the possession was mainly with the Gunners, they couldn’t really do much with it as that all important away goal remained as elusive as ever. Van Persie then drew another save out of Abbiati in the 76th minute and just two minutes later Arsenal received another blow as Djourou brought down Ibrahimovic inside the box to gift the hosts a penalty. The Swedish hitman stepped up to the spot and powered his shot past Szczesny into the bottom left corner of the goal. Van Persie had a header saved by Abbiati in the 84th minute as the Gunners continued to push forward in order to add some semblance of respect to the scoreline.
However, the goal didn’t come and Milan were the ones who looked more likely to score even towards the end of the match. The match finally drew to a close, with AC Milan comfortably reigning supreme over Arsenal.
Milan will be ecstatic with their display, especially since they managed to keep a clean sheet. With a massive goal advantage, the Italians will now be the heavy favourites to progress to the quarter-finals. Their next opponents in the league will be Cesena away from home on the 19th of February. Arsenal on the other hand were mediocre at best and lacked creativity and incisiveness in front of goal. With an exit from the Champions League looking a foregone conclusion, Arsenal will have to pick themselves up as they return to the Stadium of Light for an FA Cup tie against Sunderland on Saturday, the 18th of February. That would represent Arsenal’s last chance of salvaging any silverware this season.
AC Milan: Abbiati, Mexès, Abate, Thiago Silva, Antonini, Van Bommel, Seedorf (Emanuelson 12’), Nocerino, Boateng (Ambrosini 70′), Ibrahimović, Robinho (Pato 84′)
Subs: Amelia, Nesta,, Bonera, Ambrosini, Emanuelson, Pato, El Shaarawy.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny (Djourou 44’), Gibbs (Oxlade Chamberlain 69′), Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott (Henry 45′), Van Persie.
Subs: Fabianski, Djourou, Coquelin, Arshavin, Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henry.
Final Score: AC Milan 4-0 Arsenal (Boateng 15’, Robinho 38’, 49′, Ibrahimovic 79′ p)