By Richard Clarke
There is a stalemate in the chess match.
Arsenal will go goalless to the San Siro in a fortnight's time after they failed to breakthrough Milan's resolute defence on a night of high-tension at Emirates Stadium.
The first half of this first leg was coy and cagey. The second was more open but equally tactical with the home side broadly in control. Emmanuel Eboue, Eduardo and Emmanuel Adebayor all might have given Arsenal a crucial lead. The Togolese striker also headed against the bar with the last touch of the match.
But Italian sides are the masters of brinkmanship - especially one with the experience of this Milan outfit. And Carlo Ancelotti's team caused sufficient moments of consternation in the home defence to suggest to they can threaten more on home soil.
However Arsène Wenger will be equally optimistic given his side's dominance on the night.
It promises to be one hell of a second leg.
After the deep disappointment of Saturday, Wenger was able to welcome back Bacary Sagna, Mathieu Flamini, Adebayor and Gael Clichy into his starting line-up. All had been absent entirely or barely-fit substitutes at Old Trafford. Denilson and Theo Walcott were also back from injury to buoy the bench. Despite reports, giant Australian keeper Zeljko Kalac did start for Milan after recovering from a hand injury.
On paper, visiting side was a mini 'Who's Who' of world football. Maldini, Gattuso, Seedorf, Nesta, Pirlo, Ambrosini and, of course, Kaka were names we knew well. Tonight, Emirates Stadium could judge whether the likes of Fabregas, Flamini, Adebayor, Toure, Gallas and Clichy now had more resonance.
This particular corner of North London had been red-and-black for much of the afternoon. The San Siro is known a footballing cathedral but perhaps Emirates Stadium is starting to draw a congregation of its own these days.
As the first whistle approached, red-and-white began to match, then overtake the red-and-black. But whatever your colours tonight you were tense. It was going to be one of those nervy European nights.
Arsenal had to reshuffle inside seven minutes. Kolo Toure bore the brunt of Pato's drive and Philippe Senderos came on.
Between the injury and the substitution, Clarence Seedorf sent over a corner and Paolo Maldini's flashing header was expertly turned aside by Lehmann.
Adebayor nodded wide from Emmanuel Eboue's inviting cross almost immediately and, as the half wore, the Togolese striker would emerge as Arsenal's greatest threat.
The Milan defenders were wary of the 23-year-old's direct and muscular front-running. His reputation had obviously reached Northern Italy.
To be honest, the first half was turning into an enigmatic affair; the quality of each side was obvious but neither side was prepared push forward to any extent.
It took 36 minutes for a flowing move to produce a shot on goal. Eboue fooled his marker and cut in from the byline to feed Flamini. His first-time shot was saved by Kalac.
It was an indication that Arsenal were easing into the ascendancy. Before the break, Adebayor's heavy pass cost Fabregas a clear shot on goal and the home fans had claims for a penalty after Flamini had tricked his way into the area.
Five minutes after the restart it was Milan's turn to lose a man. Alessandro Nesta went off seemingly concussed and Marek Jankulovski came on. And, again in symmetry to the first half, the visitors nearly conceded from a corner when Kaka turned a nervous header inches past his own post.
The Milan goal was starting to come under scrutiny. Alex Hleb stormed down the right and Eboue swept a shot just wide while Adebayor scored an offside goal and was then denied by the onrushing Kalac.
In the 55th minute, Fabregas fed Eduardo on the edge of the area and he flashed a rasping shot inches over the bar.
Arsenal had taken control. Now they had to score the goal their football deserved.
However, just past the hour, the home side literally had a shot across the bows when Massimo Oddo appeared at the far post to fire over the bar. A few minutes later, Kaka sliced an effort wide as Milan continued to suggest they had regained their composure.
In fact, with 20 minutes left, it was Arsenal's turn to look rattled as Pato bustled through and Clichy hurried cleared his line before a melee ensued.
Just after Nicklas Bendtner had replaced Eduardo, Fabregas forced a low save from Kalac. Ten minutes from time the Australian held onto an altogether more dangerous shot from the Spaniard from a similar distance.
Substitute Alberto Gilardino nearly nodded home at the near post with four minutes left but Lehmann grabbed the ball on the line.
Arsenal continued to pressure and, with a minute left, Bendtner blazed over at the near post.
It seemed to be their last chance to make home advantage tell before Adebayor rattled the bar from a cross by substitute Theo Walcott.
So nearly the perfect ending.
- Toure 7
- Eboue 89 Yellow Card
- Eduardo 73
- Senderos 7 Yellow Card
- Walcott 89
- Bendtner 73
- Nesta 50
- Seedorf 85
- Alexandre Pato 77 Yellow Card
- Jankulovski 50
- Gilarbino 77
- Emerson 85