It is arguably the most eagerly awaited match-up of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round: the 2006 runners-up against the reigning champions.
It is arguably the most eagerly awaited tie of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round: the 2006 runners-up against the reigning champions.
• It is the first occasion these two famed continental campaigners, Arsenal FC and AC Milan, have faced each other on Europe's greatest club stage but the fourth successive season that Arsenal have taken on a former champion in the last 16. The English team will hope to do better than 12 months ago when they went out to PSV Eindhoven. After losing 1-0 in the Netherlands they could do no better than draw 1-1 in the return. Two years ago they took on Real Madrid CF, winning 1-0 away and drawing 0-0 at home while the previous season they found FC Bayern München too strong.
• The Gunners' only previous meeting with Milan came in the 1994 UEFA Super Cup when the Italians triumphed, drawing 0-0 in London before winning 2-0 at home. Arsenal gained their place on that stage with a 1-0 victory against Italian side Parma FC in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.
• This season, in their tenth successive UEFA Champions League campaign, Arsène Wenger's side recorded a 100 per cent home record in Group H, winning 3-0 against Sevilla FC and 7-0 against SK Slavia Praha before defeating FC Steaua Bucureşti 2-1 on Matchday 6. The last result took them to 13 points from their six games – the same as Milan – but was not enough to earn first place in the section.
• Nevertheless it extended the Gunners' sequence of unbeaten home games in the competition to 19, a run that includes qualifying rounds and spans both the old Highbury Stadium and their new home in Ashburton Grove. They last suffered home disappointment in the competition in the 2003/04 quarter-final second leg against Chelsea FC.
• Arsenal will also be buoyed by the way they have responded to the Italian challenge in recent seasons. In the last five meetings they have proved the dominant force on aggregate.
• They have played six home games against Italian teams in the UEFA Champions League, five in the group stages. The other, their most recent, was a quarter-final pairing with Juventus two seasons ago that proved another stepping stone on the way to their first final. After winning 2-0 at home they defended that advantage in a scoreless return leg.
• Two seasons before, Arsenal had good reason to rue a visit from a Milan team, going down 3-0 to FC Internazionale Milano. However they more than made amends with a 5-1 success at San Siro.
• The other 'home' defeat suffered at Italian hands came against ACF Fiorentina in the 1999/2000 first group stage although that 1-0 reverse was staged at Wembley. The other three games against Italian opponents resulted in two wins and a draw.
• Milan, seeking a sixth successive quarter-final berth, will have no fears about taking on English opposition based on recent experience. Last season they beat Liverpool FC 2-1 in the final in Athens, having extinguished Manchester United FC's hopes in the last four. That triumph, a 3-0 home victory trumping a 3-2 defeat in the first leg, followed 1-0 home and away victories against the same team in the 2004/05 first knockout round.
• However the Old Trafford win that year was their first in ten visits to face English opponents in UEFA club competition. Their record from their initial nine visits shows six defeats and three draws.
• Apart from their UEFA Super Cup victory against Arsenal, Milan also beat Leeds United AFC in the 1972/73 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final. At Old Trafford they won the 2003 UEFA Champions League final against Juventus, beating their Italian rivals 3-2 on penalties after a goalless draw, but lost on spot-kicks to Liverpool in the Istanbul final two years later. They had held a three-goal half-time lead before succumbing to the Reds' incredible comeback.
• Milan's only defeat in Group D came on British soil – losing 2-1 at Celtic FC. Away from home, they won 3-0 at FC Shakhtar Donetsk and drew 1-1 against SL Benfica.
• At this same stage 12 months ago the Rossoneri were also on British soil as they took on Celtic, drawing 0-0 in Glasgow. Kaká's extra-time finish in Milan proved to be the only goal of the tie.