Arsenal travelled to the fashion capital of Italy, Milan, for a glamorous Champions’ League encounter with one of the world’s most renowned football institutions, AC Milan. The Gunners have enjoyed success over Italian clubs in this competition over recent years, especially in the San Siro, famously destroying Internazionale by a score of 1-5 not long ago. The balance of power in European football has shifted away from English clubs since then though, and it was a strong Milan side that would face Arsenal on Wednesday evening.
Arsenal started without Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, the young forward has been in such impressive form of late that many pundits felt that he would be sure to make the starting eleven, however Arsene Wenger, perhaps a little too aware of Milan’s attacking prowess, opted to leave him on the bench, opting for Tomas Rosicky instead.
Milan started the game strongly, and their attacking trio of Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Prinze-Boateng, looked dangerous from the off. The loss of Clarence Seedorf early on, through a suspected hamstring strain, did little to disrupt the Italian side, whose passing and movement up front was crisp and incisive.
It took just fifteen minutes for Milan to hit the front, Kevin Prinze-Boateng, the former Tottenham player, just back from an injury lay-off, was picked out by a perfectly weighted chip forward from Nocerino. The Ghanaian took the ball down on his chest, and lashed an unstoppable dipping volley from just inside the box, past Szczesny and in, crashing off the underside of the bar on its way. Milan continued to threaten, Ibrahimovic just caught offside, when he could have been in. It was Ibrahimovic who set up Milan’s second on 38 minutes, spinning in behind Arsenal to collect the ball, possibly in an offside postion, racing to the byline and providing the perfect cross for Robinho to head past Szczesny.
Soon after the break, things got much worse for Arsenal. The Gunners, who’d been completely unable to gain any sort of foothold in the game, and totally incapable of maintaining possession well enough to exert any kind of attacking pressure, conceded again. On 52 minutes, Robinho cut inside on his right foot, and, taking advantage of a timely slip from Arsenal centre-back, Vermaelen, finished clinically, arrowing his shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Arsene Wenger’s side finally rallied, and at least produced a couple of moments which gave Milan cause for concern. Oxlaide-Chamberlain was introduced, and he added a little extra to the Gunners going forward. It was Robin van Persie who provided all the excitement for the away fans, with three half-chances. The first, a left foot volley across Abiatti from 16 yards, which the veteran keeper did well to push wide, the second, a right foot volley, not perfectly struck, but nonetheless, forcing a save, and, the third, a well-directed downward header, which Abiatti showed good reactions to turn round the post.
These chances were as close as Arsenal came all night, Milan however continued to look very dangerous going forward and created chances to score again, before Johann Djourou brought down Ibrahimovic in the box. A definite penalty, and Ibrahimovic, looking to keep his goal a game record in this year’s competition going, did just that, beating Szczesny from the spot. Milan could have scored twice more in the final ten minutes, Emanuelson and Antonini wasteful when in great positions, and in reality, Arsenal were lucky to escape at 4-0, it could and should have been more.
A fantastic attacking display by the Italian giants, which not only proves that that they are, once again, a major force in European football, but also sends a warning to the Spanish clubs, that an Italian side can win Champions’ League this year. Defeat for Arsenal, especially in this manner, will not do their confidence for the rest of the season much good. They are, essentially out of the Champions’ League before a ball has been kicked in the second-leg, and their emphatic loss confirms the fact that English clubs have been overtaken by top European clubs in the last two seasons. From consistently reaching the semi-finals and finals of Europe’s premier club competition, they find themselves in the position of possibly not even having a representative in the quarter-finals. That all depends on Chelsea’s result against Napoli, but come what may in that game, English teams are no longer the dominant force in European competition that they once were.