Champions League - Wenger fury at ref as Arsenal bow out
Wed, 07 Mar 01:07:00 2012
Arsene Wenger hailed Arsenal's heroic Champions League exit after a 3-0 victory over AC Milan, but could face action from UEFA for confronting the referee at the final whistle.
The Gunners scored three first-half goals and look set to make history by overturning a 4-0 first-leg deficit, but fell just short as Robin van Persie's second-half chip was saved by Christian Abbiati.
Wenger was left incensed by what he viewed as gamesmanship by the Milan players, with 21 fouls awarded against his side by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina. The Frenchman is believed to have been involved in a heated exchange with the referee as they left the field.
In his post-match press conference, Wenger said: "I was not happy with the referee because I felt he gave many free-kicks in the middle of the park.
"Every time they went down a free-kick was given for them, and they sensed that very quickly and they used it very well. The players put in a faultless performance, with fantastic spirit and you can only congratulate the whole team. We were very close."
News: Arsenal - Milan AC
Relieved Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted he was happy despite his team's brush with humiliation.
"All that really mattered was the result and that we got through to the next stage," he said.
"Today was in some ways the match of the season for us because now we are among the best eight teams in Europe and that has not happened to Milan for a few years."
"Right now, although we lost I am very happy, I am delighted we've qualified and that was the main objective, although we have to play better than that."
Wenger was left to rue the one that got away but he was full of praise for the Milan keeper.
"What can I say?" he said about the chance spurned by Van Persie whose 32 goals in all competitions this season, including a penalty against Milan before the break, have lit up the club's otherwise stuttering season.
"The one you would want the chance to go to is Van Persie. But he wanted to chip the keeper. You have to give credit to Abbiati, he came up so quickly, it was a fraction.
"Players have to make decisions so quickly. If he scores it's great, but credit to the keeper," added Wenger.
After Van Persie missed the chance to put a rampant Arsenal 4-0 up, however, Milan finally woke from their slumber and could have put the tie to bed on several occasions.
As it was, squandered chances by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Nocerino did not in the end prove costly as the Italians reached the last eight for the first time since they won the trophy for the seventh time in 2007.
It was too close for comfort, though, for Allegri, who spent most of the first half gesticulating furiously from the touchline.
"When we went two behind, we were not in control and credit must go to Arsene for how Arsenal played in the first half," he told reporters.
"We suffered in the first half after conceding a goal in the first few minutes and all credit to Arsenal because I knew the first half was going to be tough and they made it hard for us.
"But we played very well in the second half and only gave them one real chance in the second half."
He said his side would have to improve if they were to challenge the Spanish axis of Barcelona and Real Madrid for Europe's most prestigious club trophy.
"We struggled a lot, though, and in that respect I think we need to improve a lot. We've got experienced players but we need to make sure we don't struggle that much," he said.
Wenger's Arsenal have been left trying to make sure they clinch a top-four spot in the Premier League and qualify for the Champions League again next season.
While the Frenchman praised his players' fighting display after the San Siro debacle, he was ruing what might have been.
"I don't know if it's one of my proudest nights but it's a night when the players can feel proud to play for this club because they put absolutely every effort in and if you win 3-0 at home you can only say well done," he said.
"But if you play 180 minutes and are missing for 90, well it's difficult at that level. But we were very close."