Limited Arsenal exposed by Milan

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The Independent Online
Milan 2 Arsenal 0

(Milan win 2-0 on aggregate)

Arsenal were beaten, out-classed even, but not disgraced last night as they were overwhelmed by a Milan side fast rediscovering the form that made them European champions.

When Milan struggled in the autumn their manager, Fabio Capello, insisted it was just a World Cup hangover and their best would come in the new year. Not everyone was convinced but it seems he was right.

Goals from Zvonimir Boban and Daniele Massaro gave the Italian champions their third Super Cup triumph, but the score could easily have been higher.

That would have been harsh on Arsenal, who played as well as they have done all season but discovered just how great is the gulf in quality between the competition in the European Cup- Winners' Cup, which they hold, and the standard of the Champions' Cup.

"They are the best team in Europe, probably the world," George Graham, the Arsenal manager, said, "but I think we could have done better. We showed them too much respect."

Both sides made changes from the goalless draw at Highbury a week ago. Arsenal brought in Paul Merson and dropped John Jensen to substitute. Milan fielded Boban for the suspended Marco Simone while Christian Panucci returned in place of Paolo Maldini, who was suffering from toothache.

The biggest change, however, was tactical. While Milan adopted their customary 4-4-2, Graham had clearly been hard at work planning Arsenal's strategy. His team lined up with John Hartson as a lone forward, and Ian Wright, Merson, Ian Selley and Kevin Campbell in an adventurous midfield quartet, with Stefan Schwarz sitting in front of the back four.

The San Siro was not a third full for the match, the first arranged in Italy since the death of a Genoa fan, stabbed before the Serie A match with Milan 10 days ago. It included about 3,000 Arsenal fans, most - the official party - were flanked by well-armed carabinieri, but there were also some independent travellers dotted in small groups amid the home support.

Within 10 minutes it was clear they would see a more eventful game than the first leg, with Lee Dixon cuffing Panucci after he had been checked - neither offence seen by the referee - and Milan twice breaking dangerously. On the first occasion, when Massaro looked offside as he ran on to Dejan Savicevic's pass, Dixon got back to block the cross; on the second David Seaman had to save sharply from Massaro's fierce 20-yard shot.

With Savicevic and Marcel Desailly, the architects of Milan's demolition of Barcelona in the Champions' Cup final last May, clearly in the mood it was fortunate for Arsenal that Tony Adams was fit again. Even with Stefan Schwarz settling well, he was repeatedly required to intervene.

But Arsenal also impressed. Buoyed by the confidence of a 15-match unbeaten run in Europe they looked a different side from the sterile and nervous one seen in domestic matches. Positive and composed, they could have scored after 19 minutes when Hartson,given a surprising amount of space, brought down a long kick from Seaman, turned Franco Baresi (yes, really) and shot just past the post.

Wright, attacking from deep on the flanks, looked threatening but, just as Arsenal seemed to be taking control, Milan scored. Roberto Donadoni, deep in defence, played a marvellous ball to Massaro, who slipped it inside to Boban. The Croatian sped clear,despite Schwarz's desperate attempts to hold him, and rolled the ball past Seaman. A minute later he could have scored again but this time the Arsenal goalkeeper was able to touch the ball past the post for a corner.

Fears that the match would be played like a glorified friendly were erased as first Steve Bould, then Demetrio Albertini and, later, Alessandro Costacurta were booked. Milan's supporters, subdued in the first period, exploded into song as the second halfopened with verses of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "London Bridge is Falling Down" in the repertoire.

On the pitch Donadoni, then Merson, shot wide before, on the hour, Arsenal thought they had equalised as Wright tapped in after Rossi had saved a Bould header from a Schwarz corner. But the German referee had already blown for a foul by Bould.

Milan, as if roused, responded with a Savicevic shot that Seaman shovelled clear. However, he was helpless three minutes later as Massaro rose to flick a Savicevic corner inside his far post.

With the game won, Milan were content to let Arsenal come at them, but though Wright always threatened, the Londoners were unable to manage the consolation goal their efforts and approach deserved.

Milan (4-4-2): Rossi; Tassotti, Costacurta, Baresi, Panucci; Boban, Albertini, Desailly, Donadoni; Savicevic (Eranio, 87), Massaro (Di Canio, 79).

Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Seaman; Dixon (Keown, 66), Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Schwarz; Campbell (Parlour, 76), Merson, Selley, Wright; Hartson.

Referee: H Krug (Germany).