The CW was that Arsenal should just show up in the second leg against Milan and go through the motions keeping their powder dry for the rest of the Premiership season. The potential for fatigue and injury was a worrisome factor. That was the advice given by many and seconded by this blog.
We are happy to report that Arsenal did not take them seriously. It was a display that we Gunners will be proud off for many years to come. The side came out to win and the way they ended the first half it looked as if Milan would have to slink back to Italy with their tail tucked firmly between their legs.
With injury depleting the midfield, Wenger deployed the Ox playing deeper in centre midfield. The teenager was magnificent in a more unfamiliar role. He had to rein himself in but the Emirates got to see a playmaker who whipped in a cross for Kos to head home. Arsenal 1-0.
Djamel Mesbah was a mess by a mile. Arsenal flourished as they targeted the Milan left back looking like a deer caught in a Klieg light every time Walcott, Gervinho, and Ox ran at him. It was through a beautiful combination down that flank that Walcott drove in a cross that Abate tamely coughed up to Rosicky and the Czech midfielder finding his scoring touch was able to sweep it past Abbiati. Rosicky is like the cryogenic man coming alive after months in a deep freeze. Arsenal 2-0.
The Ox did not just sit back letting his attacking instincts shine in a forceful foray into the box where he was brought down and RVP smashed home the spot kick. Arsenal 3-0.
The first half mercifully ended for Milan wobbling like a boxer with his solar plexus exposed to repeated body blows.
The second half saw them regroup and regain their composure. It also saw Arsenal come to terms with the stunning lack of depth on their bench. The Ox came off having tweaked something and on came Marouane Chamakh, a move that struck terror in the Milan camp. More paranormal activity was detected as Walcott went off and Park Chu Young brought on. In between, Arsenal lost its best chance to bring this all level when Gervinho's shot took a deflection and struck Abbiati on the foot but a lurking RVP spurning power for craft decided to lift it over the goalie who anticipating his move stuck his hand out to save what should have been a sure goal. On that miss:
"What can I say?" Wenger mused. "The one you would want the chance to go to is Van Persie. But he wanted to chip the goalkeeper. You have to give credit to Abbiati; he came up very quickly."
Arsenal's heroic endeavours in the first half that had the Emirates dare to dream came to an anti-climactic end as we ran out of gas. Milan going through on their 4-3 aggregate. Afterwards, Wenger praised the players:
" It is a night when the players can be proud to play for this club. They put absolutely every effort in."
There was also a post match controversy involving the referee Damir Skomina who called too many fouls on Arsenal which attracted the ire of Wenger. Milan were the recipient of many free kicks that arrested Arsenal's momentum in the second half. Words were exchanged in the tunnel between the two and there could be a echoes of the Massimo Busacca fallout following the Barca second leg last season when Wenger received the touchline ban.
We did ourselves proud. This is what playing for a club the calibre of Arsenal should be all about. But now there should be no more distractions. The side needs to regroup from this emotionally and physically draining match and focus on cementing fourth. Onwards, Gunners. There is much left to do.