With AC Milan splashing the cash and becoming a ‘force’ again – a statement which is yet to be proven – I thought it would be a great excuse to look back at a time when a truly great Milan side were humbled by Arsenal in their own back yard.
Having drawn the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16, 0-0 at The Emirates, the Gunners travelled to the San Siro on Tuesday, March 4th 2008 needing to do something no English side had ever done.
Beat AC Milan at home.
It appeared to be an uphill battle before the teams even took to the field, with Milan naming stars such as Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and 2007 Balon d’Or winner Kaka in the starting XI.
In contrast, Arsenal fielded a relatively weak team that included Philippe Senderos and Emmanuel Eboue, with Cesc Fabregas the only really standout star.
However, Arsenal dominated the early stages, bar a Maldini header being cleared off the line and poor finish from Alexandre Pato having been played through by compatriot Kaka.
With 32 minutes gone Arsenal thought they had won a penalty. Alexander Hleb was clearly upended by Nesta inside the Milan area but, to the dismay of every Gunners player, a free-kick was awarded to Milan and Hleb booked for diving. A simply ludicrous decision.
There would be more frustration just minutes later as Fabregas – who was dominating the midfield battle – hit a rising drive off the crossbar from distance.
With no clear cut chances from there on after, the teams went in level at the break.
It had been a positive half for Arsenal. They hadn’t conceded, they’d arguably had the better chances and without a doubt dominated the game, but, most importantly, they hadn’t scored.
Arsene Wenger’s side needed to score in the second period to secure a passage into the last eight of the Europe’s elite club competition, and the early signs looked promising, but both Eboue and Senderos wasted glorious chances when they really should have scored.
Arsenal were containing Milan brilliantly, with a dipping free-kick from Pirlo the only shot to worry Manuel Almunia in the Gunners goal.
Theo Walcott entered the fray with just 20 minutes left – replacing Eboue – and his pace caused immediate problems as he was so close to picking out one of a raft of Arsenal players for an easy tap, only to see his cross blocked by Milan ‘keeper Zeljko Kalac.
The Gunners were almost made to pay for all their missed chances with just 12 minutes left. Pato found space in the box with his shot from an angle taking a deflection off Senderos and whizzing just past the post.
But, with just six minutes left, Arsenal got the reward that their performance richly deserved.
Having picked up the ball deep in midfield, Cesc Fabregas drifted past one challenge, lifted his head and put his right foot through the ball from all of 30 yards. The Spaniard’s low drive bounced, evading Kalac in the Milan net, finding the bottom corner with pinpoint accuracy. Cue wild celebrations as Fabregas and the entire team sprinted to celebrate with the Arsenal bench.
Arsene Wenger’s men had got the goal the vital goal and just needed to sit back, hang on, see out the game and do the impossible.
In typical Wenger era Arsenal fashion, they went and scored again.
Walcott had been causing problems ever since coming on, and the Englishman picked out Emmanuel Adebayor at the back post with just seconds left for an easy tap in to round off a truly magnificent, history making night for Arsenal.
After that 2-0 win in the San Siro, BBC football correspondent Phil McNulty wrote in his match report that: “Arsenal outclassed AC Milan with a style that suggested they can reach a second Champions League final in three seasons.”
Only half of this statement was true as the Gunners did not reach the final but, they, without doubt, outclassed AC Milan.
This is just one of many ‘first English team to beat … at home’ records held by Arsenal and it was a sweet one.
We didn’t just beat AC Milan, we dominated them all over the pitch. It was a complete performance, the type we haven’t seen from an Arsenal team in a very long time on the European stage.