Arsenal continue their Europa League run with a double-header against BATE Borisov. Heres a look on a classic from one of the Gunners’ previous continental campaigns.
Arsenal 3-0 Milan [Milan 4-3 Arsenal on aggregate] (Champions League, 2011-12)
There have been numerous exciting games at the Emirates Stadium since its opening back in 2006. Yet arguably one of the most memorable matches to have taken place was in March 2012 when Arsene Wenger’s Gunners faced Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League. The second leg came on the back of a disastrous first leg for Arsenal – losing 4-0 at the San Siro on February 15. Nearly three weeks later and fans hoped the Gunners could mount a famous comeback.
That hope was soon kindled within the first seven minutes when Arsenal had a corner on the left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s delivery was headed in from close range by Laurent Koscienly. The Gunners were all over the Rossoneri and would be rewarded for their positive play on 26 minutes. Theo Walcott easily went past Milan full-back Djamel Mesbah on the right and put a cross into the box. Thiago Silva, normally quite assured in defence, could only clear it as far as Tomas Rosicky at the edge of the box.
The Czech Republic international controlled the ball instantly and launched a shot towards goal. Though the ball travelled at a pedestrian pace, it still managed to squirm under Christian Abbiati’s body and into the back of the net. With two goals scored in the first 30 minutes, the Emirates Stadium fevered with excitement, willing its players forward to reduce the now-two goal deficit. Mesbah looked a player all at sea on his Champions League debut and Arsenal targeted him with great success once again before half time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, enjoying a barnstorming first half in central midfield, drove forward into the box once more. He was soon sandwiched between Mesbah and Antonio Nocerino – who clipped Oxlade-Chamberlain, sending him to the ground. The referee had no qualms awarding the hosts a penalty and neither did Robin van Persie, who calmly struck the ball past Abbiati. The half time whistle sounded, with Milan stunned at what had just occurred. Another goal, without Milan scoring, would force extra time, while two goals without the Rossoneri scoring would complete the comeback.
Arsenal would go on the attack with great intensity in the second half and hoped to get that all important fourth goal. However, Milan became much tighter than in the first half, refreshed after Coach Massimiliano Allegri had 15 minutes to talk to his team. The Rossoneri would fashion half chances and the mood in the Emirates became tense as the second half wore on. Oxlade-Chamberlain going off injured dented Arsenal’s attack without his drive.
Yet Arsenal would create a golden opportunity just before the hour to tie the game on aggregate. Gervinho’s hopeful shot got a deflection and led to Abbiati scurrying to make a sprawling save. The ball trickled towards an onrushing van Persie, who struck the ball towards goal. Abbiati brilliantly leapt to claw the ball away and leave fans shell shocked at how he had denied the Dutchman.
Arsenal’s attacking impetus began to peter out, as the visitors absorbed their attempts to push into the box. Milan grimly held on to lose the game 3-0 but win overall, 4-3 on aggregate. The Gunners may have fallen short but the fans applauded their players in appreciation of their Herculean efforts. While Arsenal rued what could have been, it was a fixture that few would ever forget.