Arsenal FC struck three first-half goals but ultimately fell short of a record UEFA Champions League comeback as AC Milan edged through to next Friday's quarter-final draw.
Trailing 4-0 after a disastrous leg, efforts from Laurent Koscielny, Tomáš Rosický and Robin van Persie gave the hosts genuine hope of completing the greatest recovery in the UEFA Champions League era. Van Persie missed a golden opportunity to level the aggregate scores on the hour, and the Rossoneri held on to edge through to the last eight for the first time in five years.
With such a heavy deficit to recover, Arsène Wenger fielded an attacking 4-3-3 formation. His side got off to a dream start on seven minutes as Koscielny rose unmarked to head in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's corner at the near post. By then Mark van Bommel had already received a booking that will rule him out of the quarter-final first leg as Arsenal set about their herculean task at a high tempo.
Van Persie was repelled by Christian Abbiati on ten minutes after a fine Theo Walcott through ball, and the Dutch international was denied by an even better stop as his curling 20-metre effort was turned wide.
Milan had so far mustered one Robinho shot from range, but they were in no rush. The onus was on Arsenal, and they duly scored again, Rosický side-footing in on 26 minutes after the visitors failed to clear their lines. Now the home crowd were beginning to believe in the impossible. If only they could keep the Rossoneri at bay, their strike force surely had more goals in them.
The third arrived two minutes before the interval, when Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought down by Djamel Mesbah and Van Persie sent Abbiati the wrong way from the spot. Stephan El Sharaawy spurned the chance to undo all Arsenal's good work on the stroke of half-time, clipping wide with the goal at his mercy. The visitors therefore went in for the interval trailing 3-0 for the first time in a UEFA Champions League match since collapsing 4-0 in RC Deportivo La Coruña to exit the 2004 quarter-finals 5-4 on aggregate.
The second half began at the same frenetic tempo but Milan seemed less inclined to sit back, wary of succumbing to the avalanche. Rosický and Oxlade-Chamberlain were still tearing forward but Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song and Kieran Gibbs each had to make timely interventions as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Robinho and El Sharaawy showed greater purpose.
Arsenal might have scored on the hour, Abbiati superbly saving Gervinho's deflected shot before clawing away Van Persie's follow-up. At the other end, Ibrahimović contrived to fire wide from 30 metres when Wojciech Szczęsny misfired a clearance straight at him.
It was a pulsating contest, with both defences stretched; Oxlade-Chamberlain curled an effort over at one end while Szczęsny saved from El Sharaawy and Ibrahimović at the other. Antonio Nocerino somehow shot straight at the keeper from two metres out after Alberto Aquilani threaded in a low cross from the right to keep us all guessing until the final whistle, but Milan hung on.