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A crestfallen Thomas Vermaelen was at a loss to explain how Arsenal FC found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-0 first-leg defeat by AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday night.
With Arsenal having spent so much of the season without three-quarters of their regular back line, the return of full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs from long-term lay-offs had been welcome news for a side that lost Per Mertesacker to a serious ankle injury on Saturday. Vermaelen was finally able to reprise his favoured central defensive berth, alongside Laurent Koscielny, after deputising at left-back in recent weeks.
However, the expected improvement was far from forthcoming as Milan took just 15 minutes to break the deadlock through Kevin-Prince Boateng before Robinho doubled the lead following Zlatan Ibrahimović's left-wing surge. Arsenal's injury woes resumed as Koscielny came off late in the first half, and thereafter Milan fairly enjoyed the freedom of San Siro.
Robinho left Vermaelen sprawling on the turf before registering his second goal shortly after the interval, then Johan Djourou conceded a penalty which Ibrahimović dispatched coolly. "It's difficult to give an explanation for what happened so soon after the game because I'm quite disappointed by what happened," said Belgian international Vermaelen.
It was a really bad result. The only thing we can do is remember that we've still got another game to go. Now we have to show some pride and give 100% in the return leg. We have to give something back to all those Arsenal fans who came all the way here to this stadium, here in Milan, only for us to disappoint them. We must think of them because what happened was not good. The only thing we can do is give them a good result in the home game."
Even an excellent result would entail Arsenal winning, at the very least, by 4-0 in London on 6 March and so levelling the tie on aggregate. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old former AFC Ajax defender, who has battled back from two long-term Achilles problems, is determined to show the strength to bounce back from adversity.
"When you are a professional, you put the bad things that happen behind you. We have to learn our lessons from what happened tonight but it is important at times like this to remain mentally strong and focus on the next game."
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