15th February, 2012
Arsenal’s Champions League quarter-final hopes are in tatters after they were comprehensively beaten by AC Milan in the first leg of the last 16 on Wednesday.
The Gunners were second best from the moment Kevin-Prince Boateng’s superb strike in the 14th minute gave Milan the lead.
Ex-Manchester City forward Robinho headed a second in the 37th and drove in a third in the 48 minutes to put the home side firmly in control.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty, after he was fouled, consigned Arsenal to their heaviest European defeat.
Four years ago, Arsenal became the first English side to beat AC Milan at the San Siro courtesy of a 2-0 second-leg victory that eliminated the then holders from the last 16 of the Champions League.
It was a virtuoso performance of defensive efficiency and ruthless counter-attacking football. It was light years ahead of what they produced in Italy’s second largest city on the night.
Such is Arsenal’s decline from those hopeful heights of 2008, and such is their mental fragility following the inconsistencies of this season, that even despite a relatively assured opening 15 minutes, the moment they fell behind they fell apart.
What followed was one-way traffic as defenders dithered and were dragged about with ease while possession-starved forwards looked on forlornly.
Arsenal’s defeat is their heaviest in European competition.
Star striker Robin van Persie has excelled for his side this season, but he was largely a passenger, barring one second-half volley saved by Christian Abbiati, as was half-time substitute Thierry Henry, whose final appearance in an Arsenal shirt will be one he will want to quickly forget.
Wednesday’s match was the first time in 222 European games (excluding qualifiers) that Arsenal have lost by 4 or more goals.
No team has ever recovered from a 4-0 away defeat to reach the next round of a European knockout tie.
In contrast, Milan, who despite their position at the top of Serie A have not entirely convinced this season, were as ruthless as their opponents had been four years ago.