Though Tomáš Rosický could barely disguise the disappointment of coming so close to completing a remarkable UEFA Champions League fightback, the midfielder said he was "very proud" after Arsenal FC's 3-0 victory ‒ and 4-3 aggregate defeat ‒ against AC Milan.
Rosický gave a standout performance in an injury-ravaged Arsenal midfield, scoring the second of three first-half goals that brought the hosts within a whisker of wiping out their 4-0 first-leg defeat at San Siro, and completing the greatest recovery in UEFA Champions League history.
The Czech Republic international initiated countless forays forward and tirelessly closed down opponents deep in Milan's half, where possession was frequently relinquished under pressure. Laurent Koscielny’s seventh-minute header, Rosický’s 26th-minute strike and a Robin van Persie penalty two minutes before the interval gave Arsenal hope that they might be able to, as coach Arsène Wenger said beforehand, "make what seems impossible, possible". However, it was not to be.
"We're very disappointed," Rosický told UEFA.com. "
Sometimes miracles happen and you could see we came very close today. We knew we had nothing to lose so we just said to each other: 'Let's go for it, let's give our best and we'll see what happens.' When I scored I felt we could score two more because we got an early one which definitely gave us a boost to start with. When we scored another one I really thought we would make it."
Arsenal went into the interval 3-0 up and the message from Wenger was to keep going. One more goal would have levelled the tie on aggregate, and both Gervinho and Van Persie went close on the hour, only to be denied by a superb double-save from Christian Abbiati. That fourth goal, however, proved as elusive as Rosický, voted the night's best performer by UEFA.com users, had been in midfield.
"We said [at half-time] to keep playing the same way," added the 31-year-old. "You could see in the second half there was a drop because we had given so much in the first half but all the same we had a chance to score the fourth. It's difficult, though; you can't blame anyone after tonight's performance. I'm very proud of my team and what we produced. We've beaten AC Milan 3-0 and we're going home disappointed. It's a bit funny. But we blew it in Milan."
Defender Kieran Gibbs agreed that the efforts of a breakneck first period took its toll on the hosts. "We gave everything in the first half and if anything we ran out of legs a bit in the second," he told UEFA.com. "We couldn't give as much as we wanted to and maybe we ran out of steam.
"We had a point to prove. We were hurt by the result in Milan and we wanted to show who we are and restore some pride. They defended better in the second half but we had our chances, but in the end they did their job and they're the ones who will go home happy.
It's probably worse to come so close and not go through. It hurts, but we did ourselves proud."
Gibbs also paid tribute to the home supporters whose contribution he felt almost helped topple Milan. "When the stadium is like this, teams struggle against us because it lifts everyone," said the 22-year-old. "The place was electric tonight. After the first one went in we could sense that we could get back into it. We have to thank the fans for that because they helped us get our goals. Unfortunately, though, we just fell short."
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