LONDON, March 7 (AFP): AC Milan advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League after Arsenal fell agonisingly short of a remarkable comeback despite an emphatic 3-0 victory over the Italian champions.
Arsenal had been left needing to pull off one of the biggest comebacks in European history after suffering a 4-0 first leg thrashing against the Serie A leaders in the San Siro last month.
But first-half goals from Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and captain Robin van Persie fired the Gunners into an improbable 3-0 lead which left the Emirates faithful daring to dream that a miracle was on the cards.
However Milan regrouped well after the break and Arsenal were unable to find the fourth goal that would have levelled the tie, leaving the shattered Premier League giants reflecting on a 4-3 aggregate defeat.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger praised his side�s display.
�They can only be proud of their performance,� Wenger said. �The team has fantastic spirit and showed some fight after the first tie, but unfortunately we go out. We had the chances for a goal, but we keep our winning run going which is important. We have paid the price for a bad first game.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri meanwhile paid tribute to the way his side had responded after their first half mauling.
�I just said to them at half-time that we couldn�t change what had happened in the first half,� Allegri said. �But I said to them it was important to remember that even at 3-0 we were still qualified.�
Arsenal had needed to make an early breakthrough to give their hopes of a miracle some momentum and they duly scored the goal they craved after only seven minutes to send the Emirates into raptures.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain swung in an inviting corner from the left, and as the jittery Milan defence appeared to be preoccupied with the position of van Persie, Koscielny popped up unmarked to head home.
The goal infused Arsenal with belief and within minutes they were sweeping forward hungrily once more. Theo Walcott surged down the right flank and fed van Persie, whose shot from a tight angle was well saved by Christian Abbiati.