So Mission Impossible did indeed prove to be the case, but the boys had a bloody good go at it and deserve great credit.
After a blistering first half we were unable to sustain the intensity with which we tore into our complacent visitors as weary legs and a dearth of adequate options on the bench meant our valiant efforts went unrewarded.
It had all looked so promising as Wenger’s men trooped off to loud cheers three goals up at the break. Koscielny had got the ball rolling with a simple header from a corner and then Rosicky picked up a loose clearance and passed the ball into the net. It seemed as though Milan were intent on being as defensively generous as we’d been three weeks ago and at 2-0 with only 26 minutes gone it was very much game on.
The untried midfield of Song, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain were dominating proceedings. Rosicky continued his fine form with another good display, buzzing around to good effect, while Song was solid. The Ox had some nervous moments to start with and was too deep at times for my liking, but he grew into the game and was impressive, particularly when he got his head down and ran at the defence five minutes before half time. He was brought crashing down in the area and after some hesitation the referee finally pointed to the spot. Robin Reliant kept his cool after a needless delay from the fussy ref and stroked home number three.
Speaking of the ref, I have to say he had a shocker. I’m typing this on the tube on my way home from the stadium so I haven’t seen any replays, but he seemed to get so many decisions wrong it was unreal. Why he waited so long to give the penalty after what was an incredibly obvious foul beats me. He seemed so reluctant to give it — as he’d been reluctant to give us anything all night — that a chant of “How much they paying you?” went up, which seemed a reasonable question in the circumstances.
Koscielny gives us a great start, but it wasn't to be
As everybody digested an amazing half of football fans around me were really starting to believe and the general consensus was that if we could keep a clean sheet we’d qualify. What we hadn’t factored in was that after a tough game at Liverpool three days ago, internationals three days before that and the sheer effort of our Spurs comeback three days before that we were now knackered.
As such Milan had the best of the second half but they couldn’t find a way through thanks largely to the excellent performances of Vermaelen and Koscielny. The Verminator played with such tenacity and determination I thought Tony Adams had come out of retirement while Koscielny went about his work with a quiet efficiency as usual. Dodgy distribution apart, Szczesny was very competent when called upon and though we were living on our nerves every time Milan attacked, the defence did well to maintain the clean sheet.
And it would have been the decisive factor had van Persie not missed a sitter just before the hour mark. Gervinho (who looked rusty all game) had a shot which was spilled and RVP tried a nonchalant flick over the stranded keeper when he could’ve walked it around him and tapped in what surely would’ve been the game changing fourth goal. I think Milan would’ve been mentally beaten if we’d levelled, but it was not to be and you won’t find too many people lining up to criticise Captain Fantastic after the season he’s had.
That apart we failed to create much and as time ticked on we were giving the ball away as a sense of panic crept into our tired play. Milan were equally as guilty of slackness and should’ve made more of their possession but they looked a shadow of the side who thumped us 4-0, missing a couple of presentable chances to finish the tie.
The Ox and Walcott picked up knocks late on and were replaced by Chamakh and Park as we went to 4-4-2. Chamakh won a couple of flick ons which nobody had the energy to chase, but Park made no impact at all. He looked like a primary kid in a high school playground and if I have one criticism of Wenger tonight it’s that Arshavin was in Russia when we needed him on the bench. But that sums the club’s attitude up at the moment — they’re happy to save £1 million on wages and bank £1 million loan fee at the expense of the team. If Arshavin had come off the bench and got us through to the next round we’d have made more than £2 million, but the club are too small minded to see the bigger picture. I’m not saying we’d have definitely won with Arshavin of course, but profit before trophies definitely seems to the modus operandi these days.
Anyway, I don’t want to criticise too much on a night when we finally showed the spirit and determination I’ve been calling for all season. I knock them when they’re poor so I’ll praise them when they’re good and tonight they fully deserved the adulation they received when they left the pitch as gallant losers.
If only we could’ve played even half as well in Milan…
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