Arsenal headed into their home tie in a situation completely unfamiliar, trailing heavily to their lower seeded opponent.
The North Londoners were humiliated at the San Siro by a highly motivated and an extremely opportunistic Milan side. Their game plan was near perfection and Arsenal simply had no answers.
It left Wenger and his team reeling as they teetered perilously over the ledge of falling out of the running of all four of the competitions they fight for each season. The task ahead of them was monumental.
The intention was clear from the home side by just glancing at the clean sheet, attack attack attack.
They could not have asked for a better start as Laurent Koscielny fought through a crowded box to nod home a corner after just 8 minutes. The home crowd were pulled immediately into the game and spurred a first half onslaught that saw Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie score to send the Gunners into the break 3-0 up and seemingly on their way to evening and perhaps winning the tie.
The crowd was buzzing as Arsenal continued to dominate possession and were the only team showing intent to score goals. AC Milan tried to kill the pace of the game every time they had the ball, opting for time wasting rather than adventure, much to the displeasure of the Arsenal players, fans, managers and anyone who wanted to see a proper game of football.
45 minutes came and went and despite their best efforts and the Gunners were unable to back up their stellar first half.
However, the loss was much easier to swallow for the Arsenal faithful. Yes, again they fall out of the Champions League in the round go 16 for the second consecutive time and yes they lost as the higher seed. There were certainly a plethora of negatives.
But it was against an example of a growing mentality that has been bred within this Arsenal squad. I realise I am starting to say the same regurgitated crap that Wenger offers every press conference, but in this case he is right. Where in the past they have been criticised for being immature, timid and cowardly, this new, certainly less talented squad, has found a fighting mentality that is the single reason the club is anywhere near the top 4. Last weekend’s game away to Liverpool was a perfect example.
Liverpool arguably had the more talented team and certainly played the better game, but Arsenal fought back from a goal behind to snatch an unlikely win in injury time. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to the vastly improve Tottenham just a week earlier. They found themselves twice a goal down at Stamford Bridge and again level late in the game before destroying Chelsea 5-3. Against Wolves, Sunderland and Stoke they have found late goals.
Should Arsenal finally go out into the transfer market and invest in the kind of talent that it so desperately needs, without losing this new ally of mental strength, then it will certainly be back on it’s way to regaining their title as a genuine contender to every trophy it goes after. Lukas Podolski is reported to be on his way to the club and will complete a move in the Summer. That is certainly a strong indication of their intentions.
They are still at least 3 signings away from truly threatening Manchester’s sides at the top of England, but they have certainly narrowed the mental gap.