Milan routs Arsenal in CL, Zenit also wins

MATTIAS KAREN AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- AC Milan outclassed Arsenal on Wednesday to plant one foot firmly in the Champions League quarterfinals, beating the English club 4-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 series.

Zenit St. Petersburg also secured a slimmer advantage by beating Benfica 3-2 at home earlier, but Milan produced the most convincing display of the knockout round so far as the most highly anticipated matchup of the week turned into a rout.

Robinho scored twice at the San Siro after Kevin-Prince Boateng had given Milan the lead with an unstoppable volley, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all but finished off the Gunners with a penalty in the 79th as the hosts repeatedly exposed Arsenal's weakness in defense.

The result puts the Italian club on the verge of its first quarterfinal appearance since it won the tournament in 2007, and goes some way toward erasing the memories of the team's struggles against English teams in recent years. It was eliminated by Premier League clubs at this stage of the Champions League in three of the past for years.

For Arsenal, it was another letdown in a season that has already seen it fall out of the Premier League title race and struggling to secure a spot in next season's Champions League.

"We didn't have the best of games but you have to give credit to Milan," Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said. "They punished us on every occasion and scored some quality goals. They deserved to win. It's very disappointing day for us and hopefully we can pick ourselves up and challenge them in the second leg."

It also provided a disappointing finish to Thierry Henry's loan spell at Arsenal, as he played his last game before returning to the New York Red Bulls.

Henry came on as a second-half substitute but could do little to inspire a lackluster Arsenal, although his neat flick-on set up Robin Van Persie for the visitors' best chance in the 66th. Van Persie unleashed a hard shot that forced a stellar diving save from Christian Abbiati, who pushed the ball just wide.

By then, though, Milan had already decided the game.

Boateng, making his first start in a month after tearing a thigh muscle, put Milan ahead in the 15th after received a pass from Antonio Nocerino on the edge of the area. The midfielder downed it with his chest and then unleashed a fierce volley from a tight angle that sailed in via the crossbar past a stunned Szczesny.

Milan was just getting started, and repeatedly harassed Arsenal's defense on quick counterattacks. Ibrahimovic was at the center of many of them, and it was the Sweden striker who set up Robinho for both of the Brazil forward's goals.

Ibrahimovic streaked down the left flank in the 38th before crossing back to Robinho, who headed the ball past Szczesny inside the far post to make it 2-0.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger put on Henry for the ineffective Theo Walcott after the break to chase an away goal, only to see Robinho add the third just four minutes after the restart.

Ibrahimovic laid the ball off for Robinho to run onto outside the area, and he fired a hard shot inside the near post.

Ibrahimovic then all but ended any hopes of an Arsenal comeback in next month's second leg when he was brought down by Johan Djourou in the area and slotted the penalty just out of reach of Szczesny.

Benfica has a much better chance of overcoming its deficit, and looked likely to leave Russia with a draw

But Roman Shirokov scored his second goal of the game just two minutes later to hand Benfica its first loss of the tournament this season.

Maxi Pereira put Benfica ahead in the 20th, tapping the ball in after second-choice goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov spilled Cardozo's free kick, but Shirokov equalized seven minutes later. Substitute Sergei Semak made it 2-1 with a backheel in the 71st.

With two away goals, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus was still hopeful of reaching the quarterfinals.

"We're down but not out. We can turn this around in our own stadium, in front of our own fans," Jesus said. "It was a shame they grabbed that third goal, just when it seemed impossible."