Tuesday March 6 2012
Milan defeated, but through

Milan almost threw away a 4-0 first leg lead, but their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal still sends them into the Champions League quarter-finals.

The Rossoneri had history on their side, as no team had ever overturned a 4-0 first leg defeat before in the Champions League. There were around 3,000 visiting fans at the Emirates, but both teams had to deal with an injury crisis.

Milan missed Luca Antonini, Clarence Seedorf, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Maxi Lopez, Alexandre Pato, Alessandro Nesta, Alexander Merkel, Antonio Cassano and Gennaro Gattuso, plus the suspended Massimo Ambrosini. Max Allegri fielded a very attacking line-up with the rare trident of Robinho, Stephan El Shaarawy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Djamel Mesbah had his Champions League debut.

Arsenal were without Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, Aaron Ramsey, Johan Djorou, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker and Jack Wilshere. They too went for it with a forward-thinking side.

An away goal would mean the Gunners need six to qualify, but Mark Van Bommel was booked in the opening five minutes and will be suspended for the next round.

Arsenal took an early lead on the night, as Laurent Koscielny was left totally unmarked to nod in an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain corner from six yards.

Christian Abbiati had to beat away a dangerous Robin van Persie angled drive when he sprung the offside trap. Kieran Gibbs also went into the book when El Shaarawy dispossessed him just outside the box, but there was huge danger as Tomas Rosicky intercepted a poor Urby Emanuelson square pass only to hesitate in setting up van Persie.

Abbiati flew to palm a van Persie strike out of the near top corner, but Milan gifted Arsenal their second. Theo Walcott got down the left and a terrible Thiago Silva clearance was straight at Rosicky for the low drive into the near corner.

It got even worse just before half-time, as Oxlade-Chamberlain was sandwiched between Mesbah and Antonio Nocerino for a penalty. Van Persie stepped up and sent Abbiati the wrong way to make it 3-0.

Milan did have a chance in stoppages, but El Shaarawy fired wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Allegri had very few options on the bench, which included two goalkeepers to make up the numbers, so there were no changes at half-time.

Szczesny rushed off his line to close down Ibrahimovic from a Robinho through ball, while Emanuelson turned a free kick well over.

It really should’ve been 4-0 on 58 minutes, but Abbiati performed a double miracle! He stuck out a foot to deflect Gervinho’s shot, then somehow scrambled control of van Persie’s chipped follow-up from point-blank range.

Nocerino blasted over from a Milan corner, while Mesbah shot straight at Szczesny from the edge of the box. A poor Szczesny clearance was intercepted by Ibra in midfield, but the shot was wide of an open goal!

Szczesny comfortably trapped an El Shaarawy counter-attack, but he was then replaced by Alberto Aquilani making his comeback after three months.

Ibrahimovic hoofed a poor free kick into the wall. Moments later a considerably better angled drive from the Swede was beaten away by Szczesny at the near post.

Milan had a great opportunity on 76 minutes, as Aquilani rolled across the face of goal for Nocerino, who toe-poked it at Szczesny’s from point-blank range when it might’ve been easier to score.

An Ibrahimovic free kick went out off Bacary Sagna, but the referee awarded a goal kick, a decision that earned Nocerino a booking for dissent. Ibra’s chest and volley from a Robinho cross was well over, as Milan were more in control of the game once Aquilani came on to bolster the midfield.

Arsenal 3-0 Milan (3-4 on agg)

Scorers: Koscielny 7 (A), Rosicky 26 (A), van Persie pen 44 (A)

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Rosicky, Song, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Chamakh 75); Walcott (Park 84), van Persie, Gervinho

Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Thiago Silva, Mesbah (Bonera 89); Nocerino, Van Bommel, Emanuelson; Robinho; Ibrahimovic, El Shaarawy (Aquilani 70)

Ref: Skomina (SLO)

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