Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Brilliant Arsenal End Milan Era & Make History

AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal (0-2 on aggregate)Two late goals from Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor gave Arsenal an historic and thoroughly deserved victory at the San Siro, where they became the first English team ever to beat the Rossoneri on their own patch in European competition. It was a master-class from the young Gunners, who ran their experienced opponents, the reigning European champions, ragged.

Arsenal started boldly, at a high tempo, and were superb throughout a first-half they dominated, yet couldn't find the vital breakthrough goal. Passing the ball smartly and at impressive speed, and winning the ball back with some crisp tackling when Milan gained possession, it was an impressive statement of unity, enthusiasm and skill from Arsene Wenger's side.

But although Cesc Fabregas hit the bar following another incisive Arsenal attack, Milan would have been relieved to go in at the break on level terms, having been left chasing shadows at times in the first-half.Pre-match, Wenger opted for Emmanuel Adebayor to play as a lone striker, supported from midfield by Alexander Hleb. Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie were on the bench, with Abou Diaby keeping his place on the left and Emmanuel Eboue, currently serving a domestic suspension, coming back on the right of midfield.

Milan had never lost to an English team at home, beat Manchester United 3-0 at the San Siro last season, and were defending the title of European champions they won last season. Manager Carlo Ancelotti had World Player of the Year Kaka in his starting XI after the Brazilian playmaker shrugged off a knee injury, while veteran skipper Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi and Alexandre Pato all started. But Dutch international Clarence Seedorf missed out with a hamstring injury.

Arsenal started with intent, Adebayor attacking Milan central-defensive unit at pace. But the Gunners had an early scare when, on eight minutes, Maldini's header came off Adebayor's knee and was heading for the net until Fabregas cleared it off the line.Five minutes later, Fabregas won the ball with a superb tackle and immediately set Adebayor on his way. The Togo striker outstripped the Rossoneri defence for pace, then checked his run and played the ball into the path of Diaby, who curled his shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area.Milan showed their threat when Inzaghi shot weakly straight at Almunia from just inside the Arsenal area, and Kaka sprinted through the Arsenal midfield menacingly before picking out Pato with a superb cross, but the younger Brazilian chose the wrong option and knocked the ball gently into the arms of Almunia. Then Kaka cut inside from the right and shot quickly towards the near post with his left foot. It hit the side netting from 20 yards though Almunia had it covered.

But in general Arsenal were bossing the play, William Gallas at last leading by example at the back, ably assisted by Gael Clichy, Mathieu Flamini working tirelessly in midfield, Fabregas pulling the creative strings and Adebayor posing a persistent threat to Milan's back-line.Maldini gifted Arsenal possession in the final third and Adebayor nearly made him pay, but his shot was just touched over the bar by Kalac for a corner.

The Gunners then created space for Fabregas, but his shot was deflected wide for another corner. Then Eboue hit an inviting cross right across the face of the goal but no Arsenal player could get on the end of it. At hat stage it was all Arsenal, with players lining up to shoot. Ludicrously, Hleb was booked by the referee on 33 minutes for diving when he was clearly fouled by Nesta right on the edge of the area.Arsenal responded by Fabregas hitting the bar from the edge of the box as the visitors continued to dominate all over the pitch. Adebayor received the ball just inside the Milan area after another flowing Arsenal attack, but he took a touch too many and the Rossoneri won the ball back.Milan relieved the pressure with a counter-attack spear-headed by Kaka, but Flamini made a superb tackle to dispossess the Brazilian.

Flamini then produced another excellent tackle on Kaka, before Hleb eventually played in Eboue, who was judged to be marginally offside.Early in the second-half, Arsenal won a corner from Fabregas that eluded everyone until Senderos stormed in at the far post but sent the ball into the arms of the grateful Kalac.Pirlo gave the ball away but Eboue shot wastefully wide, before Clichy dealt well with a long through-ball from Ambrosini despite the close attentions of Inzaghi.

Kaka showed his class again when he surged towards the Arsenal goal and let fly with a shot that flashed just wide of the post. Pato volleyed over from 20 yards when the ball sat up kindly for him.Hleb found space in the Milan area box and tried to find Eboue, who went down, but although the referee said no penalty, Maldini looked to have grabbed him by the arm.Gilardino replaced Inzaghi on 67 minutes, and a minute later Walcott came on for Eboue.

In the 74th minute, Arsenal created another excellent chance which fell to Walcott whose shot was saved by Kalac, the keeper then diving on the loose ball before Adebayor could reach it.Although Arsenal were less dominant after the break, they still looked the likelier to break the deadlock. But Pato went close for Milan when he controlled a long ball on his chest, cut inside and unleashed a shot that flew just wide via Senderos.

Finally, on 83 minutes, Arsenal got the goal they so richly deserved. Fabregas almost out of nothing, turned Gattusso and hits a superb early shot from distance that took Kalac by surprise. With the Arsenal fans in the stadium ecstatic, and many Milan fans streaming out of the ground, Arsenal got the second goal their dominance deserved.

Adebayor got his first Champions League goal for the Gunners, thanks to Walcott who made it, leaving Kaladze for dead and playing a perfect ball across the six-yard box for the Togo striker to stick it in the night with unbounded delight.

AC Milan: Kalac, Maldini, Kaladze, Nesta, Oddo, Ambrosini, Pirlo, Gattuso, Alexandre Pato, Kaka, Inzaghi. Subs: Fiori, Emerson, Gilardino, Simic, Favalli, Gourcuff, Bonera

Arsenal: Almunia, Clichy, Senderos, Gallas, Sagna, Diaby, Fabregas, Flamini, Eboue, Hleb, Adebayor. Subs: Lehmann, Van Persie, Denilson, Gilbert, Bendtner, Justin Hoyte, Walcott

Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria).

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