Having watched from the bench as AC Milan suffered the biggest second-leg reversal in UEFA Champions League history, Christian Abbiati will be taking nothing for granted when the Rossoneri visit Arsenal FC holding a healthy 4-0 lead.
The 34-year-old goalkeeper remembers all too well when Milan defeated RC Deportivo La Coruña 4-1 in the home leg of their 2003/04 quarter-final, only to then melt down in Spain. Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valerón, Albert Luque and Fran all found the target in an incredible 4-0 win for the hosts that sent them through at the Italian side's expense.
Playing deputy to Dida that night, Abbiati is certain that Milan will not make the mistake of considering Tuesday's round of 16 decider with Arsenal done and dusted. "No, because Milan have bad memories of that experience against Deportivo – it's not over yet," he told UEFA.com. "We definitely have a good advantage and we need to make the most of that. But we'll have to work hard until the end."
Helping their cause this time, the Serie A champions did not concede a goal on home soil against the Gunners. For that, they had Abbiati to thank in particular, the custodian keeping out a superb Robin van Persie volley at San Siro. "It was not that decisive as we were already 3-0 ahead, but it was very important for us not to let in a goal at home," he said. "Against big teams like that, you need great saves to make the difference in the end.
"We dreamt of quality like that," he added, trying to explain the key to Milan's commanding display. "We went onto the pitch very focused and determined and we managed to hold them back, taking advantage of almost all the chances we created. We made the most of playing in our home stadium and we were the superior team. We had plenty of possession and created some openings while preventing them from having many – just a few in the second half."
Abbiati is hoping for a similar showing in Milan's reunion with Arsène Wenger's charges, though he is relishing the opportunity to lock horns with Van Persie once again. "He's very dangerous," said the former Italy keeper, capped four times by his country.
"I like him very much. He's a great player, he's still young and he has great qualities. So I think we'll have to be careful against Arsenal and especially against him. It's always nice to come up against forwards of that standard in matches like this. When two big teams play each other, it definitely provides a spectacle."
Above all, Abbiati is savouring his second spell between the posts for Milan. A crucial member of the side that claimed the Serie A title in 1998/99, he was also in the squad when the Rossoneri won the UEFA Champions League in 2003 – though by then he had lost his place to Dida.
Two years later, he left the club on loan and took in stints with Juventus, Torino FC and Club Atlético de Madrid before returning in 2008 and lifting another Scudetto last term. "Milan gave me the chance to play in Serie A," he said. "Whatever I've won, I've won it with Milan. I have a close bond with Milan, and the great quality of this club is that every player feels at home here. We're all like a big family."
One significant target remains elusive, however. "It's a dream to reach and play in a Champions League final," said the No32, who was on the bench when Milan beat Juventus on penalties in that 2003 showpiece. "I think it's the dream of every player to play in such a huge match." A few more displays of the calibre of their first-leg triumph against Arsenal and even that dream could become reality.
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