Milan, Feb 16: AC Milan firmly put aside its recent struggles against English teams by routing a lackluster Arsenal 4-0 Wednesday to all but seal a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, dominating the first leg of what had widely been seen as the best matchup of the round of 16.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged his team is "realistically out of the competition" after its "worst performance in Europe by far."
Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring in the 15th minute with an unstoppable volley before Robinho struck twice, either side of the halftime break. Zlatan Ibrahimovic sealed the result — and probably a spot in the quarterfinals — with a penalty 11 minutes from time.
"We were never in the game," Wenger said. "We were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see how we were beaten everywhere. It was our worst performance in Europe by far. Not once in the 90 minutes were we in the game. It's difficult to analyze and it's better not to talk too much, analyze it with a cooler head and to regroup for the next game."
The Serie A champion attacked throughout and Arsenal barely had a sight of goal, with its best chance coming in the 66th minute, when Robin van Persie's shot was tipped around the post by Christian Abbiati.
Milan now looks set to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since it won the Champions League in 2007.
"We played a perfect match, especially in defense," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "We played very well as a team, we didn't give them any goalscoring chances. We deserved this night, this win. It's the best game we've played this year.
"We could have scored more and it's a pity, but we have a good advantage. However, in London we need to play as a good a match as we did tonight. We have to play another 90 minutes and it won't be an easy match especially as they have nothing to lose."
Milan has been knocked out at this same stage by English clubs in three of the past four seasons, with Arsenal beating the Italian champions 2-0 at the San Siro in 2008.
This time though, the roles were completely reversed.
Milan, having regained its position atop Serie A with a 2-1 victory at Udinese on Saturday, was further boosted by the return of Boateng, who had been out for a month with a torn thigh muscle but was judged fit enough to start.
And Boateng almost helped Milan get off to the perfect start when he backheeled the ball back to Clarence Seedorf, who drilled an effort just wide from the edge of the box.
Although Arsenal were edging possession, it was struggling to carve out any decent opportunities and Milan was looking dangerous on the counterattack.
The home side again almost took the lead when Ibrahimovic slipped the ball out to Ignazio Abate, who saw his cross deflected into the sidenetting.
Milan did go in front minutes later when a poor clearance by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny fell straight to Antonio Nocerino and he played in Boateng, who downed the ball with his chest before firing a volley in off the underside of the bar.
Arsenal had to wait until midway through the first half for its first real sight of goal but Laurent Koscielny headed straight into Abbiati's hands.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger had pinpointed Ibrahimovic as Milan's dangerman before the game and the Sweden striker helped double Milan's lead seven minutes from halftime when he raced down the left flank, before cutting inside and crossing for Robinho to head into bottom right corner from close range.
Ibrahimovic almost scored himself minutes later when he picked out Boateng on the right flank and raced into the area to meet his cross back, only to see his diving header parried by Szczesny.
With Milan running rampant on the counterattack, Boateng could have doubled his tally in first-half stoppage time as he blasted the ball into the sidenetting.
Milan started the second half as it had left off the first and extended its advantage when Ibrahimovic passed the ball short to Robinho who took one look up before drilling it into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box.
Arsenal had brought on Thierry Henry during the break for his last match in a relatively successful loan spell at Arsenal before he returns to the New York Red Bulls. But even the Gunners legend could not help carve out any goalscoring opportunities.
Milan almost further extended its advantage in the 58th minute when Robinho headed a three-pronged attack into the area and unselfishly slotted the ball across to an unmarked Luca Antonini, who fired woefully wide of the right upright.
Arsenal almost got one back in the 66th minute when Van Persie, the Premier League's top scorer, unleashed a shot from the middle of the area which seemed destined for the bottom right corner before Abbiati pulled off a fantastic fingertip save to deny the Dutchman.
Milan all but sealed a spot in the quarterfinals in the 79th minute when Johan Djourou was adjudged to have brought down Ibrahimovic in the area. The Milan striker blasted the penalty into the bottom left corner for his sixth goal in as many appearances in the competition this season.
"The result is a disaster but the season is not finished," Wenger said. "Let's be realistic, we don't play in a dream world. There may be a two-percent or five-percent chance (to qualify for the quarterfinals), you never know. But realistically we are out of this competition."