Arsenal 3-0 AC Milan: Heroic Gunners Fall Just Short

Before kick off yesterday it would have come as no surprise to anyone to learn that we’d be waking up this morning having gone out of the Champions League. However what nobody could have held any great expectation of is how close we came to overhauling the 4-0 deficit. In the end, it proved too much but such was the effort, such was the almighty fight which AC Milan had to survive that I find it impossible to look back on last night with anything but the greatest of pride in the club I support.

I spoke yesterday of the need for us to show that we are not the club that rolls over and dies on the biggest stage of them all. We might be out this morning but we certainly did not roll over. We might have lost the tie but our players should look back on last night as anything but a defeat. No matter what the circumstances, to defeat AC Milan 3-0 on the night is a supreme effort and they must have come off at half time wondering what in the world had hit them.

Before the match it emerged that our injury situation in midfield had reached perilous levels. With Mikel Arteta obviously missing after his injury at Anfield at the weekend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had to move into the centre with Tomas Rosicky, whose fitness had been far from certain before kick off, and Alex Song, representing our last three fit midfielders at the moment. As it was, all three were to go on to outstanding performances.

One thing Arsenal were always going to need to have any chance of getting back into the tie last night was an early goal and it arrived via the head of Laurent Koscielny. He squirmed free in the Milan penalty area to meet a corner from Oxlade-Chamberlain and despatched it ruthlessly into the back of the net. 1-0 and we were on our way. Moments later Robin Van Persie drew what was a comfortable save from Abbiati, but you sensed that something was in the offing.

What was needed then, was a second goal. The second was the moment that the tie ceased to look like trying to climb Everest, and the moment that I think we sensed that it really was possible for us to come back from 4-0 down against AC Milan. After Theo Walcott cut the ball across the box, Milan cleared poorly and it landed at the feet of Tomas Rosicky. The man in form needed no further invitation and with an ice-cool finish he despatched the ball to the corner of the net. 2-0, game on.

However this was AC Milan we were dealing with, not some chumps in the FA Cup or in the lower half of the league holding onto a fluke lead and even in the midst of the extraordinary second half last night they found time to remind us of that. Several times they menaced our goal, threatening the strike that would have killed our chances in the tie and for all. However, before half time they conceded the goal that made it more alive than ever.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain burst into the Milan penalty area and was taken down by Mesbah. The referee duly pointed to the spot and up stepped Robin Van Persie. The captain wasn’t going to let this chance slip through his fingers and he fired it home to a rapturous reception from Gooners everywhere. 3-0 then, was the score at half time and quite frankly it was one of the most extraordinary halves of football I’ve ever seen from Arsenal.

Sadly, it was not to last. The first half had been a supreme physical effort for the team and no team could have sustained it for ninety minutes. In truth we played a large part of the second half on the counter, but not without Robin Van Persie heartbreakingly missing the most golden of opportunities when Abbiati managed to save from point-blank range after Gervinho’s initial shot. It’s a miss that I’m sure Van Persie has been reliving all night and all this morning but the fact is we’d be nowhere without him this season, I think his efforts earn him a pass on any real criticism.

However, the significance of that incident was large as Arsenal’s heavy legs got even heavier. In truth AC Milan were the ones turning up the pressure in the latter part of the game, Arsenal’s heroic endeavours having taken their toll. The manager gambled, throwing Chamakh and Park (!) into the equation late on, but we couldn’t make it pay off. In the end the ask was too much and by the narrowest of margins we go out of the Champions League.

But that only feels like half the story. Those players left everything on the pitch last night, and the obvious pain on the faces of some of them at full time told the story. They had believed in themselves, they had been willing to give it everything and so they did. They came so very close to pulling off the most unthinkable of comebacks against AC Milan – AC Milan – and whilst it might not have gotten us through it certainly keeps the momentum we’ve been building in our last few games alive. And once again, regardless of the aggregate score, if you can beat AC Milan 3-0 on the night, what can’t you do?

It was over to Arsene Wenger to give the players the credit they thoroughly deserved. He saluted his players after the match saying,

I don’t know if it is one of my proudest nights but it is a night when players can be proud to play for this Club because they put every effort in. If you win 3-0 at home you can only say well done to the players. You know that if you play 180 minutes and you miss 90, it is difficult at this level. We were very close.

And indeed if there are regrets from this tie, they can only come from that first leg in Milan. That night was a real disappointment, mostly because it just wasn’t representative of this Arsenal team and we showed that last night. But going into last night’s match that was done and dusted and all we could do was respond and so we did, emphatically and I am so proud of my team for what they did last night.

And a special mention for Tomas Rosicky too. Another great performance from him, he’s been instrumental in these last couple of weeks, showing signs of his best that we’ve seen all too infrequently in his Arsenal career as much because of injury as anything else. The manager believes that he deserves recognition for his efforts saying,

I have to give credit to Tomas Rosicky for that [the team’s recent good performances]. He was again outstanding here. In all of these games, he was one of the most influential players, and he does not always get the credit he deserves, so I would like to take this opportunity to give him credit.

Quite right too. We’ll need him again as we go on to the rest of this season to try to ensure that we are back in the Champions League next season. The supreme effort we saw from all the players last night will be needed again. This season is not over by a long shot.

As a football fan you accept highs and lows and you cannot really have one without the other. I’m not really sure where to place last night on the scale but I do know this: If you cannot be proud of your team after an effort like that – even in defeat – then I don’t see when you ever can really be. Arsenal will play worse than that, have played worse than that for that matter and won trophies that people have been quick to flock to their praise for. Last night deserves nothing less.

We wanted our pride back, we got it. Now, let’s get on with the challenge of the rest of this season.

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  • shrek2be  On 07/03/2012 at 7:13 am

    Awesome performance from the boys !!!!!!!!!!

    Any idea re: injuries to the OX?On Twitter Theo’s brother more or less
    confirmed he was ok and suffering from a dead leg.

  • jamrockrover  On 07/03/2012 at 10:47 am

    It was a night to be proud to be an Arsenal fan, as the team showed the character and commitment that we all hoped they had. The last 3 games have finally brought out the best in the team despite all the adversity they have faced, and the rest of the season promises some real excitement.

  • Leper Messiah  On 07/03/2012 at 5:03 pm

    Haven’t seen anything thus far on any of the injury problems arising from last night, hopefully they’re just knocks that can be worked out before Monday.

    The team has shown great character to respond to the disappointments that we’ve suffered recently, completely different to last seasons capitulation. I think we can still have a good season.

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