Arsenal put in valiant first half effort, but they could not sustain their energy levels in the second half, and eventually injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott took away most of their wing threat, and Milan were able to hang on in the end to eliminate the Gunners from this year's Champions League. It was an exciting match, but it wasn't meant to be. After the jump, how things went down:
Arsenal would start with Tomas Rosicky healthy enough to go, joining Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Song in the midfield. And they would have the better of the first five minutes, too.
And then they would be ahead. From a corner, Laurent Koscielny squeezed through Milan's zonal marking and found himself all alone. Under no pressure at all, he buried his header past Christian Abbiati.
1-0 to the Arsenal, seven minutes in.
Milan would respond pretty well, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna both getting yellow cards after having to make up for poor passes. The game scrapped up a bit until Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie combined with perhaps one pass too many. van Persie had a rip 19 minutes in that forced Abbiati into a good save; the corner came to nothing.
Neither side generated much threat over the next five minutes, but Arsenal had moments of passing that finally came to fruition. Theo Walcott took on his man from the wing and squared a pass that was half-cleared to Rosicky. The Czech, though, made no mistake, shooting with the outside of his foot/toe and beating Abbiati at the near post.
2-0. 26 minutes in.
Arsenal should have been doing even more, but Thiago Silva was doing great work one on one against van Persie, and Arsenal midfielders were having a hard time with their first touch and their passing. Milan weren't super interested, either, though, and aside from some forays down the right by Ignazio Abate, they weren't getting much in the way of attack.
The game more or less went along like that for ten more minutes until Walcott pulled up lame chasing a Rosicky ball up the wing. It looked like a hamstring, but he left the pitch on his feet as the trainers attended to him.
For all of the game's stagnation, there is always a moment when one player can do something, and that player was the Oxlade-Chamberlain Device. Not knowing what it was he couldn't do, he picked up the ball, took some touches, and decided to dribble right between Philippe Mexes and Djamel Mesbah. They didn't know what to do, so they just tripped him up in the box, and it was a penalty. Only one man to take it, of course, and he made no mistake, smashing it past Abbiati for his 33rd goal of the year.
3-0, 43 minutes in.
Two minutes later, Milan would generate by far their best chance of the match, as Robinho spotted Stephan El Shaarawy alone on the right. Szczesny came out to cut off the angle, and it was enough, as El Shaarawy missed, badly, much to the relief of the momentarily bamboozled Arsenal defense. But they had survived, and halftime arrived at 3-0. It was scarcely believable, yet it felt weirdly right.
The second half started with no changes for either side. Chamberlain hurt his hamstring a bit challenging for a ball with the offside Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on.
56 minutes in, Song gave the ball away badly to Ibrahimovic. the Swede wound up to shoot, but hit the ground with his foot. It looked like Song had fouled him initially, and he was given a yellow card, which would rule him out of the next match, should Arsenal advance.
Arsenal went up the other end, Rosicky feeding Gervinho on the left. The Ivorian cut inside and shot, a deflection saved by Abbiati. The rebound fell to van Persie, who looked to have the net at his mercy, but Abbiati came flying back to claim the Dutchman's scuffed looping effort immediately. It was a great save.
62 minutes in, Milan patiently constructed an attack, but Szczesny saved Mesbah's effort. Two minutes later, he gave it away to Ibrahimovic, whose shot on an open net thankfully went wide. Arsenal were looking a little strung out in midfield, but they didn't have many options on the bench. Walcott was very narrowly offside 65 minutes in.
70 minutes in, Milan replaced El Shaarawy with Alberto Aquilani. Two minutes later, Mexes decided to take out Thomas Vermaelen, and both of them lay on the turf for a while to collect themselves. Mexes made a huge effort to take out the Belgian, too, but the ref felt there was nothing in it, amazingly.
75 minutes in, the laboring Chamberlain came off for Marouane Chamakh. Arsenal were shifting to a 4-4-2. Ibrahimovic had a rip which Szczesny saved well, and then a minute later, Andres Nocerino had an INCREDIBLE miss, wide open goal, three yards, and he fluffed it. Szczesny just picked it up off the line, disbelieving. The match was spiralling dangerously out of control, and not really in Arsenal's favor.
Arsenal were looking more and more tired 81 minutes in, but they still had not conceded. Arsene Wenger looked towards his subs bench, and the only midfielder he could see was Oghuzhan Ozyakup. Theo Walcott was limping badly 83 minutes in, and that could only mean one thing.
UNLEASH THE PARK.
Ibrahimovic won a free kick on 85 minutes, and not from far away, either. ibra lined it up, and hit it into Sagna. Amazingly, Arsenal won a goal kick.
Arsenal were running out of time, and nothing was working. Things were much less crisp than they had been in the first half, and they team was absolutely gassed.
There would be three extra minutes. It wouldn't be enough. Song missed an obvious pass to Park Chu Young in the dying moments, and the last free kick saw van Persie offside.
Arsenal would win 3-0, an admirable effort, but the tie was over and ended in Milan's favor, 4-3 on aggregate. It would leave Arsenal able to concentrate on the league and try to get healthy before Newcastle United on Monday.