'A night never to forget,' says Wenger after Arsenal disaster
Manager and fans dejected after 4-0 thrashing effectively puts Gunners out of Champions League
AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0. In a season sprinkled with second-rate displays, Arsenal produced their most dismal performance in the San Siro last night. It was a drubbing of the most humiliating proportions for the Gunners and all but ends their hopes of progressing to the last eight of the Champions League despite the return leg next month.
The pitch was poor, as Arsene Wenger pointed out before kick-off, but that was no excuse for the Gunners' spineless showing against an ordinary Milan side. Only twice did they trouble the Italians' keeper, once on 66 minutes and again six minutes from time, but on both occasions Robin van Persie's efforts were well saved by Christian Abbiati.
By the end of the thrashing, Van Persie wore the look of a deeply disillusioned man, and why shouldn't he? The likes of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Johan Djourou simply aren't in his class and the Dutchman is in danger of being dragged down to their level of mediocrity. As for Wenger, he spent the match slumped in the dugout rather than out on the touchline trying to rally his slovenly side – perhaps this was the night the Frenchman finally realised he had nothing left to offer Arsenal football club.
He certainly didn't try and defend his players, telling reporters afterwards: "It would be unfair for me to blame the pitch. The pitch was a disaster, but our performance was at the level of the pitch. It was a shocking result and a shocking performance… It's a night never to forget."
It was Arsenal's heaviest defeat in the Champions League and Wenger described the evening as his "worst night in Europe by far". He added: "We made mistake after mistake and were punished, and deservedly so… We were never in the game. We were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see."
Kevin-Prince Boateng struck first in the slaughter, volleying past Wojciech Szczesny on 15 minutes to give Milan the lead. Robinho then scored both sides of the interval to put the match beyond Arsenal's reach and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ensured Arsenal will require divine intervention at the Emirates on March 6 when he scored from the penalty spot on 79 minutes.
In an unusually candid press conference by Wenger's standards, the Arsenal manager admitted they are effectively out of the Champions League. "We do not live in a dream world and we have to be realistic," he said. "There may be a statistical chance of two per cent we can still go through but realistically we are out of this competition."
Though Wenger pointed the finger of blame at the players' attitude rather than "big tactical mistakes", the Arsenal manager couldn't quite bring himself to admit what the rest of the world has known for a while: that at least half his side just aren't good enough for this level. Djourou's clumsy challenge on Ibrahimovic that led to the penalty was an embarrassment to the good name of the Gunners while 22-year-old Theo Walcott – once hailed as the future of Arsenal – was substituted at half-time for the 34-year-old Thierry Henry.
Arsenal have just three days to regroup before they travel to Sunderland for an awkward FA Cup fifth round tie. Wenger knows how much now rides on that match. "There is a danger that a disappointment as big as this will have consequences on our belief for the rest of the season," he said. "We have a very big game in the FA Cup at Sunderland on Saturday and it's an opportunity to show we have the mental strength and character to respond to such a shocking defeat."
Only the diehard Arsenal fans still believe in their side's strength of character after last night's shambles in the San Siro. ·