A gung-ho first half was followed by Arsenal drawing blanks in the second period of their 3-0 win against AC Milan. That elusive fourth goal never came as the Gunners struggled to generate more steam after a rip-roaring opening 45 minutes left the Rossoneri just one goal ahead in the tie.
Despite the 4-3 aggregate defeat, a comprehensive win, in glorious failure, is another fillip which has prolonged an impressive winning streak.
The first leg 4-0 defeat and Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory, despite coming just 20 days apart, have occurred at two contrasting phases of the reds’ season.
Arsene Wenger was rightly bullish in his post-match press conference. He said: "The players put in a faultless performance, with fantastic spirit and you can only congratulate the whole team. We were very close."
So despite elimination at the round-of-16 for a second successive season, Arsenal are on the up. And here’s why:
Bereft of Mikel Arteta after he suffered concussion at Anfield on Saturday, Arsenal ironically benefited from the unofficial Cesc Fabregas successor. Tomas Rosicky, excellent against Tottenham two weeks ago, revelled even more and set the tone with the fluent football on show.
Wenger’s blueprint since the Sunderland FA Cup defeat has invariably resembled his greatest sides, and Rosicky, allowed to roam by the disciplined Alex Song, has hit form at a critical time.
It is also frustrating that the silky Czech has belatedly taken the initiative, where previously he was dismissed as the archetypal Arsene’s Arsenal player: stylish, lightweight and lacking substance.
The continuation of his improvement could alleviate the burden on the goalscoring shoulders of Robin van Persie in the run-in.
Arsenal v AC Milan gallery:
A simple fact, but supporters had braced themselves for the inevitable damp squib only to be elevated by their team’s admirable effort. Squad limitations hampered Arsenal when the cavalry arrived to chase a leveller – Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young are filed in the Stepanovs pile – which makes the effort all the more remarkable.
Back-to-back wins against Spurs and Liverpool have transformed Arsenal’s season, and adding Milan to that list – despite in vain – maintains the feel-good factor.
Arsenal have courage
Around this stage last season Arsenal capitulated. Last-minute defeat in the League Cup final was soon followed by being knocked out of Europe and the FA Cup, as well as effectively surrendering their chances of a first league title in seven years.
The summer departures stripped character away from an already brittle squad but, spurred on in the face of adversity, this pockmarked team has hinted at the potential for mental strength. And that’s minus the cocksure Jack Wilshere dictating play from midfield.
Chelsea's classlessness shone through on their Twitter page:
His first belated Premier League start didn’t disappoint against Manchester United, and neither did his first Champions League knockout start.
Oxlade-Chamberlain evoked memories of Ryan Giggs leaving Italian 90’s defenders as petrified as Freddy Kruger’s prey. As Ron Atkinson would say, they had twisted blood, and the ex-Southampton attacker is further cause for optimism as a bright future looms for this new Wenger side.
He has already done more than the terrible Theo Walcott in less than a season than the number 14 has in six years at the Emirates. Oxlade-Chamberlain should have started at San Siro three weeks ago, but has now at least proved to his manager why he should be a regular fixture in the side between now and May.
The Gunners' exploits made an impression in Barcelona:
At Liverpool, Wojciech Szczęsny and the woodwork were the saviours, but last night Arsenal looked a more solid defensive unit. It wasn’t without its flaws – Szczesny’s distribution prompted the odd heart-in-mouth moment and Stephan El Shaarawy and Antonio Nocerino missed great chances to kill the tie – but continuity within the back five is essential.
Injuries have scuppered that previously this season and some are prone to jittery mistakes still, but keeping a clean sheet after being slaughtered in Milan was a major achievement. Especially after some woeful defending in their recent four matches, where nine goals were shipped.