Milan Routs Arsenal 4-0 in Champions League
The most highly anticipated matchup of the Champions League's first knockout round was hardly even a contest.
AC Milan outclassed Arsenal on Wednesday to plant one foot firmly in the Champions League quarterfinals, beating the English club 4-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 series.
Zenit St. Petersburg also secured a slimmer advantage by beating Benfica 3-2 at home earlier, but Milan produced the most convincing display of the knockout round so far as the meeting of two top teams turned into a rout.
Robinho scored twice at the San Siro after Kevin-Prince Boateng had given Milan the lead with an unstoppable volley, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all but finished off the Gunners with a penalty in the 79th as the hosts repeatedly exposed Arsenal's weakness in defense.
"We played a perfect match, especially in defense," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "We played very well as a team, we didn't give them any goalscoring chances. We deserved this night, this win. It's the best game we've played this year."
The result puts the Italian club on the verge of its first quarterfinal appearance since it won the tournament in 2007, and goes some way toward erasing the memories of the team's struggles against English teams in recent years. It was eliminated by Premier League clubs at this stage of the Champions League in three of the past for years.
For Arsenal, it was another letdown in a season that has already seen it fall out of the Premier League title race and struggling to secure a spot in next season's Champions League.
"We were never in the game," Wenger said. "We were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see how we were beaten everywhere. It was our worst performance in Europe by far. Not once in the 90 minutes were we in the game."
It also provided a disappointing finish to Thierry Henry's loan spell at Arsenal, as he played his last game before returning to the New York Red Bulls.
Henry came on as a second-half substitute but could do little to inspire a lackluster Arsenal, although his neat flick-on set up Robin Van Persie for the visitors' best chance in the 66th. Van Persie unleashed a hard shot that forced a stellar diving save from Christian Abbiati, who pushed the ball just wide.
By then, though, Milan had already decided the game.
"We didn't have the best of games but you have to give credit to Milan," said goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. "They punished us on every occasion and scored some quality goals. They deserved to win. It's very disappointing day for us and hopefully we can pick ourselves up and challenge them in the second leg."
Benfica has a much better chance of overcoming its deficit, and looked likely to leave Russia with a draw
But Roman Shirokov scored his second goal of the game just two minutes later to hand Benfica its first loss of the tournament this season.
Maxi Pereira put Benfica ahead in the 20th, tapping the ball in after second-choice goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov spilled Cardozo's free kick, but Shirokov equalized seven minutes later. Substitute Sergei Semak made it 2-1 with a backheel in the 71st.
With two away goals, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus was still hopeful of reaching the quarterfinals.
"We're down but not out. We can turn this around in our own stadium, in front of our own fans," Jesus said. "It was a shame they grabbed that third goal, just when it seemed impossible."