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Friday, Feb. 17, 2012

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Decisive victory: AC Milan's Urby Emanuelson moves for the ball against Arsenal in Champions League action on Wednesday night. Milan won 4-0. AP

Robinho nets pair as Milan embarrasses Arsenal in CL


MILAN, Italy — AC Milan firmly put aside its recent struggles against English teams by routing a lackluster Arsenal 4-0 on 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 sight of a 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 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 back-heeled the ball to Clarence Seedorf, who drilled an effort just wide from the edge of the box.

Although Arsenal was 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 side netting.

In the night's other game, host Zenit St. Petersburg defeated Benfica 3-2 as Roman Shirokov scored twice.

Maxi Pereira put Benfica ahead in the 20th, tapping the ball in after backup goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov spilled Oscar Cardozo's free kick, but Shirokov tied it seven minutes later.

Substitute Sergei Semak made it 2-1 with a backheel in the 71st. Cardozo retied it in the 87th after Zhevnov again failed to hold a shot.

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