After seemingly wrapping up the tie in San Siro with a 4-0 victory, Milan's lead all but evaporated before halftime as three Arsenal goals threatened one of the competition's greatest comebacks.
Koscielny scored the opener for Arsenal. Photo: EFE
AC Milan survived a grilling at Arsenal to reach the Champions League quarter-finals 4-3 on aggregate on Tuesday despite losing the second leg of their last 16 tie 3-0 after the London side threw everything at the visiting Italians.
After seemingly wrapping up the tie in the San Siro last month with a 4-0 victory, Milan's lead all but evaporated before halftime as goals by Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie threatened one of the competition's greatest comebacks.
Van Persie missed a great chance after the break to level up the tie as the home crowd roared their side forward, although Milan were also guilty of wasting several gilt-edged chances to calm their nerves on a fraught night.
Antonio Nocerino wasted Milan's best opportunity when he shot straight at Wojciech Szczesny from point-blank range but the Italians clung on to advance.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had given his side a five percent chance of turning the tie around before kickoff but by halftime the odds were favouring the home side after a
barnstorming 45 minutes at a rocking Emirates Stadium. "We can only be proud of our performance," said Wenger. "We restored some pride after the first leg.
"Overall, we kept our winning run going (after two Premier league victories), that is important, and unfortunately we paid the price for a bad first game. We did everything and we are desperately disappointed," he told Sky Sports.
The Gunners made the perfect start, taking the lead after seven minutes when Koscielny headed in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's inswinging corner.
Milan fielded an attacking lineup with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy up front but they hardly got going during the opening period as a red tide swept in the other direction.
Van Persie twice tested Milan keeper Christian Abbiati, forcing one flying save, before Arsenal's second goal arrived after 26 minutes.
Theo Walcott sped down the right and his low cross was only half cleared by Thiago Silva straight to the lurking Czech Rosicky who steered a precise shot inside the near post.
Milan were desperately trying to clear their heads by keeping the ball but lacked any thrust and appeared happy to try to avoid further damage before halftime.
Their negativity cost them dear though and Arsenal reduced the deficit further two minutes before the break when they were awarded a penalty after Oxlade-Chamberlain was sandwiched by Djamel Mesbah and Nocerino.
After a long delay referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot and Van Persie kept his cool to beat Abbiati.
The visitors were far more positive after the break although they suffered a scare when Van Persie looked poised to score but scooped the ball straight into the arms of Abbiati after the keeper had blocked Gervinho's deflected shot.
"I felt he (Van Persie) wanted to chip the keeper because he was down but he got up very quickly," said Wenger. "I hoped in the last 10 or 15 minutes we could create some
dangerous situations in front of goal but unfortunately we didn't have enough drive any more because we played with too many strikers," added the Frenchman.
As Arsenal threw caution to the wind late on and Milan had several chances to seal the tie but Ibrahimovic and Nocerino were guilty of terrible misses to leave the Italian fans biting their fingernails until the end.