Despite a valiant attempt to overcome a 4-0 first leg deficit, Arsenal had to settle for glorious failure in the end
Good evening everybody. You'd bet on a one-legged man to win an arse-kicking competition before risking it on Arsenal to overturning their 4-0 first leg deficit against AC Milan in tonight's Champions League last 16 second leg. But as my podcasting chum James Richardson said in yesterday's episode of our podcast Football Weekly, it's going to be fun to watch them try.
Without going into the minutiae of what I'm sure were complex mathematical calculations, Arsene Wenger has stated that he puts Arsenal's chances of emerging triumphant from this tie at 5%, which makes Arsenal ... [minute-by-minute reporter counts on fingers] ... 19-1 longshots, but renders their cause far from hopeless, even if they are just one kick or header of the football away from needing six goals, rather than the comparatively derisory four that would put them in a penalty shootout.
"We'll put out the best possible team to qualify," said Wenger in yesterday's press conference. "We want to have a real go and make it possible. Of course we will have to drive forward. The best way is to ignore the first game – we can score goals. In the last two home [Premier League] games we scored 12, so we know we can."
Arsenal players can take heart from the fact that Milan have high profile previous in the field of Champions League collapses, having thrown away a 4-1 first leg lead to lose against Deportivo La Coruna in 2004, then allowing Liverpool to come back from 3-0 down at half-time to beat them on penalties in the final the following year. Small wonder, then, that their coach Massimiliano Allegri has been urging against compacency ... even though he'd probably be doing it anyway even if he thought his side were already home and hosed.
"When you're playing in the last 16 of the Champions League in London against Arsenal, despite being 4-0 up, I would never expect my team to relax," he said. "In football you never know what might happen – so we need to forget the first game and focus on qualifying for the next round."
The Gooners are going to get thumped, aren't they?
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Rosicky, Song, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho.
Subs: Fabianski, Park, Djourou, Jenkinson, Chamakh, Miquel, Ozyakup.
AC Milan: Abbiati, Abate, Mexes, Thiago Silva, Mesbah,
Nocerino, Van Bommel, Emanuelson, Ibrahimovic, Robinho, El Shaarawi.
Subs: Amelia, Aquilani, Zambrotta, Bonera, Ganz, Yepes, Roma.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
That's an attacking looking Arsenal side: But then, it needs to be. Despite doubts about their fitness, Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky will start, with the latter on the right-hand side of a midfield trio comprised of Alex Song in the centre and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. Up front, Robin van Persie will lead the line, with Gervinho on his left and Theo Walcott on his right.
Meanwhile in the Milan XI: Like Arsenal, the Italians will line up in a 4-3-3, albeit one that's likely to be less anxious to play expansively and get forward. In midfield, Mark van Bommel will do his usual job of kicking anything in a red shirt that attempts to run at the back four he's shielding, while Antonio Nocerino and Urby Emanuelson will play further forward on his right and left respectively. Up front, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stephen El Shaarawy will line up on the right and left of Robinho, where they will no doubt attempt to cripple Arsenal with lightning fast counter-attacks.
Prediction time: I can't see Arsenal winning this match, let alone the tie: Arsenal 1-3 AC Milan.
Not long now: The players emerge from the tunnel, with Arsenal's players kitted out in their usual home strip of red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts and white socks. Milan's players wear black shirts shorts and socks with the three red stripes of Adidas on their sleeves, shorts and socks.
Pre-match niceties: Skippers Robin van Persie and Christian Abbiati exchange pennants, the ref tosses the coin and Arsenal kick off playing from left to right.
1 min: Arsenal immediately go on the attack, switching from left flank to right, before working the ball all the way back to Wojciech Szczesny, via Laurent Koscielny.
2 min: Excellent play from Arsenal, who attack down the right-hand side, only for Theo Walcott to be caught offside as he makes a dartying run towards the edge of the six-yard box to get on the end of a short pass from Rosicky.
4 min: AC Milan attack, with Robinho trying to work an opening for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only for Bacary Sagna to clear.
5 min: Amazing scenes! Mark van Bommel gets booked for his first tackle of the game, on Rosicky. Normally he gets away with seven or eight of those fouls before the referee even contemplates showing him a card.
GOAL! Arsenal 1-0 AC Milan (Agg: 1-4) (Koscielny 5) Well, well well ... Arsenal win a corner, which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whips in to the near post. Completely unmarked, Laurent Koscielny nods home from just outside the six-yard box.
9 min: That early goal was just what the doctor ordered for Arsenal and has got the Emirates rocking. Arsenal need to be careful, though - they've looked vulnerable ever since scoring.
11 min: The early signs are promising for Arsenal, with both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott having started brightly. On Sky Sports, match analyst Gary Neville suggests they should try dribbling towards Mark van Bommel at pace, in the hope of getting the slow, immobile midfielder sent off.
14 min: Bacary Sagna gets booked for a mistimed tackle on the slow, immobile midfielder Mark Van Bommel.
14 min: Thiago Silva does well to dispossess Theo Walcott in the Milan penalty area, shepherd the ball out to the flank under pressure from the Arsenal forward and hack clear.
15 min: Kieran Gibbs gets booked for sweeping the legs out from under Stephen El Shaarawy: free-kick for Milan, just to the right of Arsenal penalty area. The ball's whipped in to the penalty area, where Gibbs clears.
17 min: Arsenal carve open the Milan defence, courtesy of Rosicky and Van Persie. It's two on two as the former passes to the latter, albeit a mite too early. Under pressure from Thiago Silva, Van Persie is forced to pass the ball back to Rosicky, but his delivery is wayward and goes behind the midfielder. On the edge of the penalty area, being marked by Mexes, Rosicky backtracks, picks up the ball and plays it between defenders, but his pass is too weighty and Abbiati beats Van Persie to the ball, earning a free-kick when the Arsenal captain challenges him. Arsenal should have scored there.
20 min: Christian Abbiati is forced to fling himself to his right to palm a Robin van Persie shot from just outside the penalty area around his right upright. From the ensuing corner, Arsenal win another one. For the first time this evening Alex O-C's delivery is poor and fails to clear the first man, allowing under-siege Milan to clear their lines.
22 min: Arsenal continue attacking, with Alex O-C on the edge of the final third, attempting to dink the ball over the top of Milan defence and on to the head of Van Persie. Milan clear.
24 min: Arsenal attack down Milan's right flank again, having clearly identified Milan left-back Djamel Mesbah as a weak link. The link-up play between Song, Gervinho and Walcott is marvellous, releasing ... oh my word!
GOAL! Arsenal 2-0 AC Milan (Agg: 2-4) (Rosicky 25) With Milan having repelled one attack down the right, Arsenal go down that flank again, courtesy of Walcott. Mesbah stands off him, allowing him to drive in a low hard cross. Thiago Abate's clearance is dismal and only goes as far as Tomas Rosicky, who coolly slots the ball into the bottom right-hand corner from about 18 yards.
28 min: On the goggler, Gary Neville is stressing the importance for Arsenal to defend. He points out that they will inevitably get another four or five chances to score, so their priority should be to keep their heads and avoid conceding a goal. Remember, if they do ship one, they'll be straight back to square one with a four-goal deficit to overcome.
29 min: From the edge of the final third, Tomas Rosicky slips the ball through to Robin van Persie, who has his back to goal in the penalty area. He tries to take possession on the turn, but is robbed by Thiago Silva, who hoofs clear.
32 min: AC Milan go on a rare sortie out of their own half, courtesy of Urby Emmanuelson. The ball finds its way cross-field to Ignazio Abate, who shoots straight into the gloves of Wojciech Szczesny.
34 min: Robinho attacks Arsenal down the right touchline, cuts inside and runs into Gervinho. The ball cannons off the Arsenal forward's shins and looks to be going out for a corner, but Kieran Gibbs hacks it out for a throw-in before it crosses the line. Funnily enough, if Roninho had looked up there, he would have seen Stephen El Shaarawy loitering with intent on the edge of the six-yard box.
37 min: From the left flank, Robin van Persie sends a low cross into the Milan penalty area, where Gervinho and Walcott are waiting. Thiago Silva intercepts and clears.
38 min: Arsenal free-kick, about 45 yards from goal. Robin van Persie tries to drop the ball in over the edge of the six-yard box, but completely miscues and fails to get any lift on it, failing to clear the first defender.
39 min: Theo Walcott sets off on a gallop down the right flank and is taken out by beleaguered full-back Djamel Mesbah, who he's been tormenting all night. The Arsenal winger goes down holding his thigh, but is fit to continue after receiving treatment.
40 min: Penalty for Arsenal! They attack down the right flank again courtesy of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who cuts into the box where Mesbah and Nocerino hack him down.
GOAL! Arsenal 3-0 AC Milan (Agg: 3-4) (Van Persie 43pen) Robin van Persie buries the ball past Christian Abiatti! That's a splendid, unstoppable penalty.
44 min: You'd have to say Arsenal are the favourites to win this tie at this stage, as long as they don't lose the run of themselves and forget to defend stoutly. They've been making hay down the right wing, where the visitors' left-back Djamel Mesbah looks like some supporter who's won a competition where first prize was the opportunity to play for AC Milan in a Champions League match. He's having a shocker.
45+1 min: A lapse in concentration results in Stephen El Shaarawy being put clean through on goal with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat. Bearing down on goal from right to left, he fires across the keeper's bows only to see his shot fizz hopelessly wide. That's a let-off for the Gooners; he really should have scored there.
Half-time Arsenal go off having reduced their arrears by 75%. They were 33-1 to qualify for the next round before the start of play tonight, now they're 5-6 favourites.
Half-time punditry: Having spent several minutes ripping Milan's players a new one for their poor marking at set pieces and even poorer attitude going into this match, Sky pundits Graeme Souness, Alan Smith and Ruud Gullit are now singing the praises of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, just one of several home players who've been excellent tonight.
Saltuk Ozertuk writes: "I am a huge Arsenal fan, and I am really scared now," he says. "Can we ever recover from going up 5-0 and then conceding a last minute goal to win 5-1 but lose the tie on away goals?"
There's always one: Having taken the time and trouble to copy and paste my predictions from earlier in the report into an email, the utterly charming and delightful Adal Mirza has writen this lovely missive: "Guardian sports writers getting it spot on again. Are you wearing your Man Utd shirt? Wear it proud mind."
You have to hand it to Adal and people like him (there are a lot of them about) - not content with being sore losers, they're so enraged and embittered with their lot in life that they seem incapable of enjoying the good times either.
No doubt Adal was confident Arsenal would be 3-0 up at half-time tonight; probably as certain about it as he is that anyone who thought that Arsenal might struggle to overcome a 4-0 deficit against Milan must be a Manchester United fan.
Second half: And we're off ... there don't appear to be any changes on either side. That seems odd to me, as I'd suggest Milan would be better off playing with 10 man rather than 11 including Djamel Mesbah.
49 min: From a Milan free-kick that might as well be a corner, Stephen El Shaaraway heads wide at the far post. He should have done better.
50 min: Early in this half, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went down with what looked like a hamstring injury, but he appears to have recovered, which is good news for Arsenal.
53 min: Theo Walcott tries to square the ball across the face of goal for Gervinho, who was free in space. A Miilan defender sticks out a leg and makes a vital interception.
54 min: Great goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny, who dashes off his line to hack clear a through-ball which was being chased down by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
54 min: Theo Walcott picks up the ball on the right flank, waltzes past the hapless Djamel Mesbah and tries to square the ball across the face of the Milan goal. At the near post, Thiago Silva clears.
56 min: For all his shortcomings, it could be argued that Djamel Mesbah is being left horribly exposed by his team-mates. Stephen El Sharawy and Urby Emanuelson are doing little or nothing to help him.
57 min: Alex Song gets booked for a foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, seven or eight yards outside the Milan penalty area, a tad right of centre. Urby Emanuelson tries his luck, but his effort is sloppy enough to prompt a bout of angry gesticulating from his manager on the touchline.
59 min: A Gervinho shot from about 11 yards takes a wicked deflection off a defender, but hits the legs of the wrong-footed Abbiati in the Milan goal. The ball rebounds to Robin van Persie on the edge of the six yard box, but rather than sidefoot it into one of the corners, he tries to lift it over the goalkeeper, who anticipates his intentions in advance, sticks up a hand and saves. You'd have bet the farm on Van Persie scoring there!
60 min: "Aren't you always being accused of pro-Arsenal bias?" asks Eamonn Maloney. "The agony and indeed, the irony." Well, so far today, I've been accused of anti-Newcastle and anti-Chelsea bias, plus pro-Manchester United bias. That's not bad for a slow Tuesday.
63 min: Arsenal dodge a bullet there, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic pounces on a loose pass from Wojciech Szczesny to Alex Song, dispossesses the midfielder before he can control it and then shoots wide of a goal that was at his mercy. The mightily relieved Arsenal goalkeeper raises his hand by way of apology to his team-mates.
65 min: Bacary Sagna tries to pick out Robin van Persie with an inswinger of a cross from the right flank. Christian Abbiati dashes off his line and leaps to punch clear.
68 min: Milan are gifted possession and embark on a counter-attack when Tomas Rosicky miscontrols a pass from Alex Song with his chest. The move ends when Urby Emanuelson fails to get hold of a shot from distance and Wojciech Szczesny gets down to save easily.
71 min: Milan substitution: Stephen El Shaarawy off, Alberto Aquilani on. Yes, that Alberto Aquilani, the Harry Potter lookalike who's on loan at Milan from Liverpool. He's just returning from a long-term injury and probably wasn't expecting to get thrown into a cauldron this hot and bubbly on his comeback.
73 min: Theo Walcott picks up the ball on the right flank and tries to cut inside one ... two ... three players, rather than go around the woeful Djamel Mesbah on the outside. In the end, Walcott tries to take on one player too many and is crowded off the ball.
75 min: Arsenal substitution: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain off, Marouane Chamakh on. The under-performing Moroccan has big boots to fill and will probably never get a better chance to salvage his reputation as an Arsenal player.
75 min: Antonio Nocerino tries a shot from distance, Szczesny can only parry, but Kieran Gibbs is on hand to hack clear when the ball could have pinged anywhere.
77 min: Christ on a bike - a quite astonishing miss by Antonio Nocerino, who shoots straight at Szczesny with the outside of his right boot from about three yards out when he had half the goal gaping in front of him and all the time in the world to sidefoot the ball into it.
79 min: Gervinho takes on Philippe Mexes down the left flank, but the defender stands his ground, sticks out a leg and sends the ball cannoning off the Arsenal winger's shins.
81 min: Theo Walcott is hobbling and wincing, having apparently picked up a knock on his left leg.
82 min: With Walcott lying on the ground in the Milan penalty area, Rosicky tries to thread the ball through the defence for Robin van Persie. Philippe Mexes intercepts and clears.
84 min: Arsenal substitution: Theo Walcott off, Park Ji-Young on.
84 min: Milan win a free-kick just outside the D of the Arsenal penalty area.
86 min: Zlatan Ibrahimovic shoots the ball straight into the wall, where it hits Bacary Sagna and goes out for a corner ... only for the referee to award a goal-kick. Antonio Nocerino points out the referee's error and has a moan, only to be booked for his trouble.
87 min: Another Arsenal attack down the right flank, another Bacary Sagna cross wafts in the general direction of Robin van Persie. It's not close enough to the Dutchman and Milan clear.
88 min: Milan substitution: Djamel Mesbah gets put out of his misery and walks off very slowly - his first worthwhile contribution to his team's cause this evening. He's replaced by Daniele Bonera.
90 min: There'll be three minutes of added time, in which Arsenal must score a goal if they are to avoid being eliminated from this season's Champions League.
92 min: Alex Song dispossesses Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the edge of the Arsenbal penalty area and sets off on the counter-attack. He tries to pick out Robin van Persie, but succeeds only in gifting possession back to Milan.
90+3 min: Wojciech Szczesny is waved forward by his manager as Arsenal win as free-kick, which is wasted.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeeeep! It's all over. Despite a heroic attempt at coming back from 4-0 down, Arsenal are out of Europe and their players look as thoroughly gutted as their Milan couterparts appear visibly relieved. The Italian side were awful this evening, but hung in bravely throughout the second half to scrape through to the quarter-finals. That was a dogged second-half performance, which has helped them avoid becoming an international laughing stock.