A brilliant AC Milan performance saw them take Arsenal apart at the San Siro last night and all but book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Allegri started Kevin Prince Boateng, playing in behind Ibrahimovic and Robinho with Seedorf on the left and Nocerino the right of midfield.
It was a shape that fused physicality with technique against the unpredictability of Arsenal, and it brought total control of the game. The Rossoneri went on the attack straight away and some good improvisation by Ibrahimovic almost freed Seedorf, but he was just offside. The Dutchman was in the right place on four minutes to exchange passes with Boateng, but his low shot went just wide.
However, the captain’s game lasted just 12 minutes before he had to leave the field with a calf-muscle injury, to be replaced by Emanuelson.
The home side were following Allegri’s instructions to the letter, pressing the man on the ball, showing total concentration in defence, and keeping an eye on Arsenal’s midfield runners, like Song and Ramsey. Emanuelson’s introduction actually beefed-up the Rossoneri’s attacks and they went ahead in the 15th minute, just after a shot of his went wide. Nocerino put Boateng through on the right of the Arsenal area and the Ghanaian showed splendid control before hitting a clinical shot in off the crossbar.
The goal marked the return of the explosive, muscular talents of Boateng to the AC Milan side. He is the fuse that gets the Rossoneri going and on 21 minutes combined with Nocerino before just grazing the crossbar with a headed effort. Arsenal reacted with a spell of possession which had the clear objective of frustrating the home team, but apart from a poor Koscielny header, Wenger’s team could find no consistency in their play. For AC Milan’s part they slowed the pace of the game, happy to rely on the Gunners’ lack of balance and the outstanding Van Bommel in midfield.
In the 36th minute Robinho skipped away on the counter-attack but left it too late to pass to Ibrahimovic and the opportunity was missed. However, when the Swede then advanced down the left and crossed, the Brazilian couldn’t miss with an easy header to make it 2-0. Ibrahimovic was very impressive in holding the ball up and delivering the perfect assist.
It could have been 3-0 soon after if Boateng didn’t hit the ball over the bar after yet another Rossoneri counter-attack. Antonini also made good progress through the Arsenal defences when in the 47th minute he shot a whisker wide after being put through by that man Ibrahimovic, but then he committed a foul on Szczesny just afterwards.
Four minutes into the second half and it was game and tie over. Ibrahimovic slipped the ball to Robinho, and as Vermaelen slipped, the Brazilian striker made it three nil.
The first Rossoneri player to miss the chance to make it 4-0 was Antonini who hit a tired shot wide of the goal. The second was Robinho who dallied and allowed his shot to be blocked on the edge of the six-yard box.
Arsenal were now being allowed more space as AC Milan eased off and in the 66th minute Abbiati made a great save to keep out a certain goal by Van Persie, whose diagonal shot from a Henry flick he deflected around the post with his fingertips.
In the 33rd minute Djourou brought down Ibrahimovic in the area to concede a clear penalty, which the Swede obviously didn’t miss. Four goals might be enough, and was the ideal opportunity for Allegri to bring on Pato for Robinho, while Abbiati once again denied Van Persie. The Brazilian got into the game immediately but couldn’t add to the total, which should be sufficient. Now the Rossoneri can start to dream.