With AC Milan's Champions
League hopes under attack the ball rebounded invitingly to
Arsenal's Robin van Persie in front of goal and the striker
seemed certain to level the last 16 tie at 4-4 on aggregate to
complete an amazing comeback on Tuesday.
Unbelievably, though, the Dutchman who cannot stop scoring
chose the wrong option and his attempted dink went straight into
the arms of relieved Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and with
it Arsenal's best chance of staying in the competition.
The incident early in the second half proved a pivotal
moment in the match as Arsenal, who had roared into a 3-0
halftime lead, ran out of steam and Milan held on for a 4-3
aggregate victory to move into the quarter-finals.
"All that really mattered was the result and that we got
through to the next stage," relieved Milan coach Massimiliano
Allegri told reporters.
"Today was in some ways the match of the season for us
because now we are among the best eight teams in Europe and that
has not happened to Milan for a few years."
"Right now, although we lost I am very happy, I am delighted
we've qualified and that was the main objective, although we
have to play better than that."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was left to rue the one that
got away but he was full of praise for the Milan keeper.
"What can I say?" he told reporters about the chance spurned
by Van Persie whose 32 goals in all competitions this season,
including a penalty against Milan before the break, have lit up
the club's otherwise stuttering season.
"The one you would want the chance to go to is Van Persie.
But he wanted to chip the keeper. You have to give credit to
Abbiati, he came up so quickly, it was a fraction.
"Players have to make decisions so quickly. If he scores
it's great, but credit to the keeper," added Wenger.
Milan had suffered a fright night until that moment as their
4-0 lead from the first leg almost evaporated with Arsenal
scoring through Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and Van Persie.
After Van Persie missed the chance to put a rampant Arsenal
4-0 up, however, Milan finally woke from their slumber and could
have put the tie to bed on several occasions.
As it was, squandered chances by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and
Antonio Nocerino did not in the end prove costly as the Italians
reached the last eight for the first time since they won the
trophy for the seventh time in 2007.
It was too close for comfort, though, for Allegri, who spent
most of the first half gesticulating furiously from the
"When we went two behind, we were not in control and credit
must go to Arsene for how Arsenal played in the first half," he
"We suffered in the first half after conceding a goal in the
first few minutes and all credit to Arsenal because I knew the
first half was going to be tough and they made it hard for us.
"But we played very well in the second half and only gave
them one real chance in the second half."
He said his side would have to improve if they were to
challenge the Spanish axis of Barcelona and Real Madrid for
Europe's most prestigious club trophy.
"We struggled a lot, though, and in that respect I think we
need to improve a lot. We've got experienced players but we need
to make sure we don't struggle that much," he said.
Wenger's Arsenal have been left trying to make sure they
clinch a top-four spot in the Premier League and qualify for the
Champions League again next season.
While the Frenchman praised his players' fighting display
after the San Siro debacle, he was ruing what might have been.
"I don't know if it's one of my proudest nights but it's a
night when the players can feel proud to play for this club
because they put absolutely every effort in and if you win 3-0
at home you can only say well done," he said.
"But if you play 180 minutes and are missing for 90, well
it's difficult at that level. But we were very close."
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