AC Milan made a giant leap towards a first UEFA Champions League quarter-final appearance since 2007 after completing an imperious four-goal victory against Arsenal FC.
A spectacular Kevin-Prince Boateng volley, strikes either side of the interval by Robinho and a late Zlatan Ibrahimović penalty condemned Arsène Wenger's side to their heaviest ever European defeat. The Gunners require five goals when the sides reconvene in three weeks' time in London if they are revive their remote prospects in this competition – even less likely on the evidence of this evening, they cannot afford to concede.
The build-up to the match was dominated by talk of the English hoodoo that has seen Milan eliminated at this stage by Premier League opposition for three UEFA Champions League campaigns running. Yet it was the Rossoneri who haunted Arsenal with a high-octane display of pressing, passing and lethal finishing.
Massimiliano Allegri's side began as they meant to go on when Clarence Seedorf sent a fourth-minute shot fizzing wide. Though the Dutchman had to go off injured soon afterwards, the hosts maintained their momentum, almost taking the lead through his replacement, Urby Emanuelson, who mis-hit Ibrahimović's lay-off from 12 metres out.
The Rossoneri were soon ahead as Boateng – returning from a month-long absence – controlled Antonio Nocerino's pass with his chest before sending a venomous strike in off the bar from a tight angle. Arsenal, laborious in possession, lacked Milan's drive and energy, epitomised by Boateng and Robinho. Not to mention the killer pass, provided time and again by Ibrahimović, including the moment he crossed for Robinho to head in after haring down the left flank.
Boateng broke through to crash a shot into the side netting, while Nocerino skimmed the bar with a ferocious strike. The Gunners were being swamped, and the sight of Laurent Koscielny limping off just before the break represented more bad news. The visitors' other central defender, Thomas Vermaelen, was exposed for Milan's third goal. The Belgian international slipped as Robinho, played in by the impressive Ibrahimović, turned him inside out before dispatching a low angled shot inside the helpless Wojciech Szczęsny's right-hand post.
Wenger introduced Thierry Henry for his 376th and perhaps final appearance for Arsenal, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for only his ninth. The former almost created an unexpected away goal when he conjured a clever flick which set up Robin van Persie. The 28-year-old's shot was on target, but Christian Abbiati pulled off an excellent save to deny the Dutch international.
Abbiati denied Van Persie twice more as the visitors threw caution to the wind – it was clearly not the Gunners' night. Indeed worse was to follow for the visitors when Ibrahimović was upended by Johan Djourou 11 minutes from time. The Sweden striker converted the spot kick for his fifth UEFA Champions League goal of the campaign to cap a fine individual performance; it was not a bad team display either.