Arsenal played at home to AC Milan last night in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie. Having lost the away leg 4-0 three weeks ago Arsenal had an enormous task to try to progress to the next round. I had hoped that they could at least win on the night, but I didn't hold out much hope of them progressing to the quarter finals.
With a long list of injured players Arsene Wenger didn't have much choice in his team selection, and he ended up picking the team I had predicted. At least Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky had recovered from their knocks, and they were able to take their places in the team. The real problems were in midfield where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had to slot in for the injured Mikael Arteta.
I had thought Chamberlain would play in an advanced midfield role, but Rosicky played there with Chamberlain beside Alex Song. There were no midfielders on the bench for Arsenal, and it was vital for them that their midfield trio managed to avoid injury on the night.
From the start Arsenal went at Milan, and they got their reward in the sixth minute. Chamberlain took a corner from the Arsenal left, and it was met at the near post by an unchallenged Laurent Koscielny to head Arsenal into the lead. He had managed to lose his marker with an excellent run, and give Arsenal the start they wanted.
Arsenal were on top and they looked like they might score on almost every occasion that they attacked. They were first to every loose ball, and they were playing the game at a much faster pace than Milan. It was noticeable how far their defenders were pushing up, and they caught Milan offside on numerous occasions.
With 26 minutes gone Arsenal got their second goal, and suddenly it looked like they might have a real chance of turning the tie around. Theo Walcott broke into the Milan penalty area, but his cutback was cleared by Thiago Silva. It was a very weak clearance and it went straight to Rosicky who steered the ball into the corner of the net past an unsighted goalkeeper.
The Arsenal fans were really behind the ream, and the atmosphere in the stadium was absolutely fantastic. With half time approaching Arsenal were well on top, and all they needed was another goal to really open the tie up. They got their chance to do just that with only a couple of minutes left in the first half.
Chamberlain made a great run into the Milan box, and he was sandwiched between two Milan defenders. The referee seemed reluctant to give the penalty, but thankfully the official behind the goal seemed sure it was a penalty. Usually the officials behind the goal are of little use, but hit was a pleasant change to see one get involved for once.
Robin van Persie stepped up to take the penalty, and he blasted it to the back of the net. It took quite a while for him to take the penalty, as the ball had to be re-spotted and the Milan players did their best to distract him. With the score at 3-0 the possibility of Arsenal reaching the quarter finals was a real possibility when half time arrived.
Arsenal started the second half on the attack again, but Milan were having more possession and looking a lot more dangerous than they did in the first half. Chances were missed at both ends before Arsenal created the opening which looked certain to level the tie.
Rosicky broke forward and played the ball to Gervinho just outside the penalty area. He cut inside and his shot was deflected, but the keeper managed to save it with his foot. The rebound came to RVP only a few yards out, but the goalkeeper anticipated his attempted chip and made a fantastic save.
Maybe RVP should have played the ball to either side of the keeper or blasted it past him, but he was very near the keeper and he looked certain to score with the chip. He has already scored 32 goals in all competitions this season, and he came so close to making it 33.
Arsenal began to fade as the workload took it's toll on the players, and Milan created some very good chances which they failed to take. Chamberlain had to go off with 15 minutes remaining, and he looked like he might have picked up a knock. Wenger said afterwards that he had been unwell with flu the night before the game, and he was a doubt to even play.
Arsenal tried to muster enough energy to push forward, but it was obvious that there was nothing left in the tank. Walcott had to depart with seven minutes left after Mark van Bommel caught him with a knee and gave him what looked like a dead leg. It was a deliberate move by van Bommel in my opinion, but I would expect no more from a player of his undoubted ability to cheat and get away with it.
The two substitutes Arsenal brought on were Marouane Chamakh and Ju Young Park, but their introductions did little to help the balance of the team. Milan did enough in the last half hour to keep a visibly tired Arsenal team at bay, as Arsenal made poor decisions time after time when in possession. I have no doubt that fatigue had a large part to play in that last half hour.
Arsenal may have exited the Champions League, but their 3-0 victory helped them to regain some of the pride which had been missing in the 4-0 away defeat. It was a glorious exit if that is possible, and at least Arsenal managed to continue their winning streak. They played with the pride and passion which had been missing in the first leg, and made their fans proud of them.
Since exiting the FA Cup to Sunderland Arsenal have beaten Spurs, Liverpool and Milan, and scored 10 goals in the process. They have moved three points clear in fourth place in the Premier League, and they are within four points of third place. They have played with style, strength and confidence, and they look capable of beating any team.
Their next game is in five days time at home to Newcastle in the Premier League, and that should give the players some time to recover. It's a game they need to win to keep up the pressure on those around them, and they owe Newcastle a good hiding too. If the players can display the attitude they did last night I have no doubt they will pick up another three points in that game.
Rosicky was excellent again last night until he tired like so many others towards the end. Chamberlain showed that he's not just a wide player, and his understanding of the game for an 18 year-old is quite extraordinary. He has an incredibly bright future in football, and I cannot wait to see him in the same team as Jack Wilshere when Wilshere eventually returns from injury.
The Arsenal defence looks like it is finally beginning to form an understanding, and it's no surprise that they are gelling after playing together for a few games. If those four defenders are considered Arsenal's first choice back four they need to play together to form an understanding. They have only done so five times so far this season, and it's no coincidence that the understanding is slowly starting to form.
Despite their exit from the competition Arsenal gave their all in attempt to rescue the tie, and only fatigue beat them in the end in my opinion. The players were heroes in defeat, and displayed the character which the fans have being longing to see for so long. That same character was displayed against both Spurs and Liverpool too, and if they continue to display it the rest of the season looks very bright for Arsenal.
There are no more trophies on offer for Arsenal this season, but they have 11 games left to try to finish as high as possible in the Premier League. I think third place is well within their grasp, and St. Totteringham's day will arrive if they do manage to finish third. That's something for the Arsenal fans to look forward to for the rest of the season.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See you tomorrow.