Tuesday, March 4, 2008

AC Milan vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Arsenal progressed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League after knocking out holders AC Milan in their round of sixteen tie. The Gunners overcame a resilient Milan side after two late strikes sent the Rossoneri spinning out of European competition. It was Milan's first European loss at the San Siro. The two sides drew 0-0 in the first leg at the Emirates.

Milan worked hard, but the Gunners dominated for long spells of the game, with the Rossoneri looking their most dangerous on the counterattack. The game looked destined for extra-time until an incredible 25-yard strike from Cesc Fabregas hit the back of the Milan net. Arsenal wrapped up the game when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the Gunners' second in stoppage-time.

AC Milan: Zeljko Kalac; Paolo Maldini, Kakha Kaladze, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Oddo; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Kaka; Alexander Pato, Filippo Inzaghi

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Bacary Sagna, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, Gael Clichy; Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Eboue; Alex Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor

Arsenal started brightly, denying Milan space in midfield down by closing them down quickly. Their hard work was rewarded when a chance opened up for Alex Hleb at the edge of the penalty after seven minutes, but the Belorussian midfielder, playing as a second striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor, crashed his drive well off target.

It was Milan who almost went ahead though, when a near-post flick from Paolo Maldini was cleared off the line by Cesc Fabregas with Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia beaten.

Abou Diaby had a chance for Arsenal after being teed up by Adebayor, but the young Frenchman's shot went just over the top-right corner of the Milan goal.

Pato should have scored for Milan in the 18th minute after a good break from Kaka. The world player of the year chipped a neat ball to his fellow Brazilian, but Pato could only direct the ball straight into the chest of Almunia from a few yards out.

As the 25 minute mark approached, Milan's dominance began to end, but not before a header from Inzaghi and a low shot from Kaka nearly forced Almunia into action.

Adebayor came close to scoring with a 12 yard-drive, but the tall Togolese striker's shot was tipped over the crossbar by Milan keeper Zeljko Kalac.

Alex Hleb was harshly cautioned for allegedly diving on the edge of the Milan penalty box, but the replays seemed to show that the 26-year-old was brought down by Alessandro Nesta.

Adebayor, who hit the crossbar in stoppage time in the first leg of this tie, once again tried to turn provider after rolling the ball to Fabregas, but the Spaniard crashed his shot off Kalac's crossbar.

AC Milan had outplayed Arsenal for the beginning period of the first half, but Arsenal were on the ascendancy, and nearly grabbed their first goal just after half-time. A cross found it's way to Philippe Senderos, but the Swiss international shot directly at Kalac from only a few yards out.

Emmanuel Eboue had a decent chance five minutes after the break, but his angled drive was blasted wide.

Almunia had had little to do in goal, but was alert enough to dive down and turn a free-kick from Andrea Pirlo around the post. The Gunners had another warning when Kaka broke down the left and almost created a goal for himself only to fire just wide of Almunia's upright.

Arsene Wenger replaced Ebou with the speedy Theo Walcott in the 70th minute. The 18-year-old had a good chance soon after coming on, but opted to cross rather than shoot from just in front of goal, wasting a good opportunity.

The game was finely balanced, with a goal for either side almost surely ensuring a win.

The moment of brilliance came from the young Cesc Fabregas who created a superb solo goal after picking up a loose ball. The midfielder sidestepped Gennaro Gattuso before unleashing a fierce 25-yard skidder into the bottom corner of the net.

The Gunners looked sure to win with Milan needing two goals to keep the Gunners out because of the away goals rule, but Emmanuel Adebayor made the victory certain in stoppage time by turning in a fine cross from Walcott.

The goal ended a superb night for Arsenal, who will take a considerable amount of confidence out of beating last year's Champions League Champions.