Arsenal FC and AC Milan will move on to the San Siro with this UEFA Champions League tie evenly balanced after an absorbing encounter in north London ended goalless.
Gunners manager Arsène Wenger had called the first knockout round tie the "ultimate test" for his young side and they proved worthy of the challenge as they pressed the European champions back for long stages. A faultless display from Zeljko Kalac in the Milan goal, though, kept the English Premier League leaders at bay – even if he was grateful to the woodwork when Emmanuel Adebayor headed against the crossbar from point-blank range in the closing seconds.
Young and old
The emergence of Pato has given Milan's season fresh impetus and he was quickly involved on his return from injury here. Kolo Touré was forced off on seven minutes after blocking the 18-year-old's powerful shot and from the resulting corner, Rossoneri old boy Jens Lehmann spectacularly tipped away Paolo Maldini's header. At 38 and 39 respectively, two of the game's old guard were showing they still have plenty to offer.
Even with Touré making way for Philippe Senderos, Arsenal were unfazed. Wenger had urged them to play with the "handbrake off" and they purred seamlessly through the gears early on, Saturday's defeat at Manchester United FC long forgotten. Despite plenty of possession, chances were few, with the front line in midfield where Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo kept Cesc Fabregas in check. When the 20-year-old did release Adebayor the prolific forward shot over, although Kalac – recovered from a dislocated finger – was finally called into action on 36 minutes to smother Mathieu Flamini's low drive.
Having successfully subdued Kaká for much of the opening period, Flamini was beginning to push forward himself and he drew another save from Kalac with a low cross after twisting free of Pirlo just before the break. Prior to that the biggest cheers had been for Senderos, first for diligently blocking the electrifying Pato as he burst into the box, then for a crunching tackle on Kaká.
Like Arsenal at the start of the first half, Milan had to reshuffle their rearguard five minutes into the second when Alessandro Nesta picked up a knock. On came Marek Jankulovski but, before Milan could regroup, Kakha Kaladze almost headed into his own goal from a corner. Tails up, Arsenal came close again soon after when Emmanuel Eboué curled an attempt centimetres wide. The hosts were finding their fluency and had the ball in the net on 54 minutes only for Adebayor's effort to be ruled offside.
The title-holders were being pinned back, struggling to escape the confines of their own half, with Kaká and Pato isolated up front. Even so, they remained a danger. Kaká shot wide on 69 minutes, then Pato sent Arsenal hearts racing as the ball bobbled dangerously in their area. The Rossoneri's hero of the night, though, was at the other end. Kalac has dislodged Dida as Milan's No1 and it was clear to see why as he dived low to block Fabregas's drive with 15 minutes left, then repeated the feat as Milan went unpunished – with a little help from the crossbar.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.