Wenger: "It is a night when the players can be proud"
Published 23:08 06/03/12 By John Cross
Robin van Persie came heartbreakingly close to completing a "fantastic" Champions League comeback last night.
Van Persie saw his chip saved by Milan keeper Christian Abbiati as Arsenal beat the Serie A leaders on a glorious night at the Emirates but still ended up crashing out of Europe.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger ended the night in frustration but praised his players' spirit after they raced into a three goal lead by half time and van Persie just could not finish the job.
"What can I say? The one you would want the chance to go to is van Persie. But he wanted to chip the goalkeeper, you have to give credit to Abbiati he came up very quickly," said Wenger.
"They have to make such quick decisions and he took this decision and he had other options. If he scores it is great, he didn't so credit to the keeper.
"But we gave a good performance tonight and we are disappointed because we touched qualification. We had the chances. We didn't do it but we were very close.
"I felt we suffered a bit in the second half physically because we had given a lot at Liverpool. When we tired in midfield we had no opportunities on the bench.
"The regret I have tonight is there because for the rest the players put a faultless performance, fantastic spirit, and you can only congratulate the whole team.
"It is a night when the players can be proud to play for this club. They put absolutely every effort in. You win at home 3-0 you can only say well done to the players.
"But you know when you play 180 minutes and you miss 90, it's difficult at that level. But I am proud of their fantastic spirit tonight."
Wenger, who has already served a UEFA touchline ban this season, finished the night frustrated and angrily confronted Slovenian referee Damir Skomina in the tunnel after the game.
Skomina gave 21 fouls against Arsenal but just eight against Milan despite the Italians conceding a penalty and having three yellow cards against them.
Wenger said: "I was not happy with the referee because he gave them many free-kicks in the centre of the park.
"Every single free-kick every time they went down it was for them. They sensed that very quickly on the pitch the players and they used it very well."
Wenger then challenged his players - who looked shattered and heartbroken at the final whistle - to carry on their momentum and finish in fourth.
"It will be difficult because it is a big disappointment for the players. The team has grown together and hopefully we can finish the season in a strong way," said Wenger.
"Our target is possible. We are four points behind Tottenham but we have to go step by step and have a big game on Monday night against Newcastle.
"We need to win our games and look at the results of teams like Tottenham if we want to catch them. We have to win our games."
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri added: "I knew we would face a difficult match. Arsenal played the first half with great intensity, they were really dangerous. But in the second half we forgot the first half and in the end we got a result.
"I'm very happy. To qualify was our main target, our main objective after winning the first leg. But I was fearing the first half could reopen the match."