Arsenal’s hopes of progressing to the last sixteen of the Champions League were all but extinguished as AC Milan routed them 4-0 at the San Siro. Arsenal were hoping to carry their good recent Premiership form into Europe but soon found themselves on the back foot as Milan dominated the game from start to finish.
Milan had failed to win any of their previous seven matches against English clubs and were knocked out by Tottenham at this stage last season. But there were no signs of anxiety from the home side as Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring for the Italians after just 15 minutes with a superb strike. After chesting the ball down on the edge of the Arsenal box, Boateng turned and fired the ball over Wojciech Szczesny and in off the crossbar. Worse was to follow for the Gunners in the 38th minute when Ibrahimovic raced down the left wing and squared for Robinho to nod in from six yards. Two minutes before half-time, Koscielny was replaced by Johan Djourou through injury and Wenger made his second change by replacing Theo Walcott with on-loan striker Thierry Henry. It was Henry’s last appearance for Arsenal before heading back to the United States to rejoin New York Red Bulls.
Any hopes of a revival for the Gunners faded soon after the break when Vermaelen slipped, allowing Robinho to fire home the third and leave Arsenal on the brink of elimination. Milan continued to threaten and in the 78th minute substitute Djourou bundled over Ibrahimovic to concede a penalty. Ibrahimovic was happy to accept the gift and converted the penalty to complete Arsenal’s misery. It was their heaviest away defeat in Europe and leaves them needing a miracle in the return leg at the Emirates Stadium in two weeks’ time. Manager Arsene Wenger called it a “shocking performance” and admitted that “realistically, we are out of the competition.”
There was a thrilling encounter in the other Champions League game on Wednesday night as Zenit St Petersburg battled to a 3-2 victory against Benfica at a bitterly cold Stadion Petrovskiy. The Portuguese visitors did not seem unduly concerned by temperatures hovering around the –10 degrees mark and they took the lead in the 21st-minute when Maxi Pereira capitalised on an error by Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov.
Zenit, revelling in their first appearance in the knockout stage of the Champions League, equalised in the 27th minute when Shirokov’s volleyed home and edged ahead after the break when Sergei Semak rounded off an excellent move. Benfica hit back and levelled the tie in the 87th minute when Zhevnov was again at fault, this time allowing Oscar Cardozo to tap in from close range. However, their celebrations were short-lived as slack defending allowed Shirokov to grab a vital winner for the home side. Zenit will only have a slender one-goal advantage to defend for the return leg in Lisbon on 6th March and Benfica will be optimistic that they can make their away goals count. The tie could hardly be more evenly poised.