Having put up one of their worst ever European displays when crashing to a 4-0 first leg defeat against AC Milan, Arsenal came very close to turning the tables on the Italians in a pulsating second leg clash at the Emirates Stadium.
History suggested that Arsenal had no chance of overturning that massive four goal deficit but a first half blitz had Milan wobbling at 3-0 down as they headed back to the dressing-room. A header from Laurent Koscielny and a strike from Tomas Rosicky soon had Milan on the back foot as confidence grew inside the stadium that the incredible comeback was a possibility. A penalty converted by Arsenal’s inspirational captain Robin van Persie rounded off a first-half performance of near-perfection from the Gunners that seemed to have set them up for a second-half assault on their reeling opponents.
However, it wasn’t to be. Milan used the interval to gather their composure and came out determined to protect their slender one goal advantage. Apart from a crucial save from a Van Persie chip, they were not really troubled in the second period as Arsenal’s challenge ran out of steam. The game ended with Wenger confronting Slovenian official Damir Skomina over his handling of the game, particularly his willingness to repeatedly award free-kicks to the Italians that took the pace out of the game and allowed them to defend their lead. He must now wait to hear whether or not he faces any action from UEFA for his actions.
Joining AC Milan in the last eight will be Portuguese giants Benfica after they overturned a 3-2 first leg defeat against Zenit St Petersburg with a 2-0 home victory. Benfica set out in determined fashion and levelled the tie when Maxi Perieira scored in first half injury-time. That put them ahead on the away goals rule but remained a perilously slender advantage. Zenit sent on Danko Lazovic in a bid to give themselves more attacking options and pressed for an equaliser but Benfica always looked the more likely to score. Chances came and went for Wisel and Jardel and Oscar Cardozo squandered two excellent shooting opportunities to wrap up the tie. In stoppage time, Nelson Oliveira, on as a substitute, latched on to Bruno Cesar’s clever pass from the right and fired home from 12 yards and the Benfica fans were finally able to relax and celebrate progression to the quarter-finals.