By Richard Clarke
Arsenal stormed into the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League after a magnificent victory at Milan on Tuesday evening.
It was a huge night for Arsène Wenger's side. They were up against not only the holders but Europe's most successful side in recent years and, at home, their bright campaign had been stuttering of late.
But they responded with a performance of determination, poise and patience. It was capped five minutes from time by a goal from Cesc Fabregas. Along with Mathieu Flamini, the Spaniard had dominated the famous names in the Milan midfield. Perhaps it was a new-found respect that meant they afford him a little too much space to let fly from fully 30 yards.
As the ball bounced into the net, the Arsenal fans erupted. Fabregas slid on his knees towards the dug-out then ran off kissing the badge on this shirt.
Adebayor slotted home another in the final minute seal a win that felt every bit as good as the 5-1 on this ground against Inter in 2003... or the 1-0 win at Real Madrid... or the 1-0 win at Juventus in 1980.
It was Milan's first defeat at home by English opposition and perhaps Arsenal's greatest away win in European competition.
And it was utterly, utterly deserved.
It is a well-worn phrase but the San Siro really is a cathedral of football. And, as in every place of worship, the atmosphere is dependent on the strength of belief among the congregation.
Before kick-off this evening, the Milanese fans seemed to have an almost evangelistic belief in their side. Most of the independent observers were with them.
Wenger side's saw only one change from the weekend. Emmanuel Eboue, whose current ban does not include European football, replaced Theo Walcott on the right. Alex Hleb was deployed as a half-striker behind Adebayor.
Although it had been a highly tactical game overall, the second half of the first leg had been attacking and enthralling. The start of the return rubber began the same way.
In the fifth minute, Pato burst to the byline and saw his angled shot deflected over. From the corner, Paolo Maldini nodded on at the near post and there was a moment of consternation in the six-yard box before Arsenal cleared. In the minutes that followed William Gallas and Mathieu Flamini had to nod inquisitive free-kicks away from the danger area.
Milan had started not like traditional cagey Italians but akin to an up-and-at-'em English side.
Arsenal knew they might be counterattacking tonight. And they showed some stomach of the job when Adebayor held up a long ball forward before laying the ball back to Diaby, who sidefooted wide.
However Milan would respond with better chances - Filippo Inzaghi's volley and Pato's chip. Almunia held on to both. Inzaghi was starting to look lively. The veteran flicked a header wide and drove into the sidenetting midway through the half as Milan continued to press.
Arsenal were being stretched and stretched. But Adebayor's fine drive in the 27th minute gave them not only respite but hope. Hleb weaved forward and eventually Diaby nudged the ball to the Togolese striker whose curling sidefoot had to be touched over by Milan keeper Zeljko Kalac.
The visitors grew in confidence from the chance and started to build moves with a little more patience. The whistles from the home crowd suggested the tide was turning.
That was hammered home in the 32nd minute when Arsenal worked their way down the left flank and Adebayor found Fabregas on the edge of the area. His rasping effort beat Kalac and rattled the bar.
Arsenal were now stretching Milan with Fabregas and Hleb pulling the strings to try and give Adebayor a clear sight of goal.
It never quite happened before the break but the home 'congregation' was noticeably quieter.
They were so nearly silenced two minutes after the interval when Fabregas raked a corner through the area to the far post where Senderos ghosted in to thud an effort into the chest of Kalic. If it had gone a foot either side it would have been the opener.
Arsenal were starting to find regular space in the Milan area - and the home fans did not like it one bit. In the 50th minute, Eboue fired wide from six yards when he might have tested Kalac.
Although Pirlo's bobbling free-kick was somewhat nervously turned around the post by Almunia shortly afterwards, Arsenal still had the upper hand.
Just past the hour Kaka's mazy running saw him outpace Fabregas and then outwit Sagna before firing wide.
After that, for the first time on the night, the game started to lose focus. Not surprisingly both managers threw on attacking substitutes - Alberto Gilardino and Walcott respectively
The new addition for the visitors nearly set up Adebayor in the 73rd minute but his deflected cutback just would not come down in time for the striker. Five minutes later, Pato cut inside Clichy and curled an effort just wide.
The tension was now becoming palpable. Milan were the masters of brinkmanship but Arsenal had been the better side over the two ties. They deserved to go through, all they had to do was score.
Fabregas obliged five minutes from time when the home side afforded him too much space and he tried his luck from distance.
Milan suddenly looked an old side and their response was minimal. It was no surprise to see Walcott fly down the right in the final minute before sending a low ball across the area for Adebayor to convert at the far post.
The Arsenal side reprised their famous huddle at the full time whistle in front of an emptying San Siro.
The most recent Kings of Europe had lost their crown and, on the strength of this performance, Arsenal were the young pretenders to the throne.
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Fabregas Goal!
- Eboue 71 Yellow Card
- Hleb 89 Yellow Card
- Adebayor Goal!
- Walcott 71
- Silva 89
- Kaka Yellow Card
- Pirlo Yellow Card
- Inzaghi 69 Yellow Card
- Gilardino 69