Thrilling victory at San Siro in 2008 provides winning blueprint for Arsenal

Arsenal travel to San Siro this week trying to save their season. But to do so, they must end their European round-of-16 hoodoo in the very place it began.

Arsenal's 4-0 loss to AC Milan in the first leg of their 2012 Champions League tie -- their last trip to the San Siro -- was their heaviest ever European defeat at the time. Arsene Wenger called it "shocking" and a "disaster."

Since then, we've become used to Arsenal getting blown away in the first leg of the round of 16 every year, culminating in the humiliating 5-1 loss at Bayern Munich last season.

Will it be any different in the Europa League? If so, Arsenal must forget about 2012 and instead try to replicate their performance from the previous San Siro visit -- the stellar 2-0 win in 2008 that sent them through to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Here's a look at how those two games unfolded, and what can be learned from each.

AC Milan 4-0 Arsenal -- Feb. 15, 2012

Arsenal imploded in this game in a manner that was stunning at the time but has become commonplace since. In Thierry Henry's final appearance for the club -- he came on as a half-time substitute when already 2-0 down -- they were guilty of every classic mistake you can't make in this type of tie.

Conceding early: In some ways, there's not much you can do about the kind of opener that Kevin-Prince Boateng scored that night -- a rocket of a volley from a tight angle that flew over Wojciech Szczesny before he even had a chance to react. But the defending in the lead-up to the goal was slack, with Boateng allowed to run into space in the box to meet a ball played over the top. Arsenal will need to close down Milan's attackers much more effectively on Thursday.

A second goal before half-time: If Arsenal do suffer an early setback this time, it's crucial that they remain solid and don't panic. Over 180 minutes, a one-goal deficit isn't much. But in 2012, they seemed to be rattled by Boateng's goal and Milan were allowed to dominate the game. Perhaps they could have recovered if they got to half-time just one goal down, but instead they allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to gallop down the left flank shortly before the break to set up Robinho for an easy header.

Laurent Koscielny injured: Just as against Bayern Munich last year, things really started getting bad when Koscielny had to come off injured. In Milan he limped off just a minute before half-time and was replaced by Johan Djourou -- whose name won't exactly be mentioned alongside Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell on the list of great Arsenal centre-backs. In the current squad, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding are the main backups in case Koscielny suffers another setback of his chronic Achilles problem. In other words, they better hope he can stay fit.

Needless penalty: Having conceded a third goal shortly after the break, Arsenal killed off any hopes of staging a comeback by conceding a soft penalty when Djourou brought down Ibrahimovic in the box. These current Gunners have often been guilty of similar fouls in the box, and will need to stay disciplined to avoid a repeat on Thursday.

So how should Arsenal approach this game? By trying to replicate what happened a decade ago.

AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal -- March 4, 2008

This was one of Arsenal's greatest European nights since reaching the 2006 Champions League final, as they put in a near-perfect team performance to become the first English side to beat Milan at the San Siro.

After a 0-0 draw at the Emirates, Cesc Fabregas scored with a long-range strike and Emmanuel Adebayor added a late second goal to see Wenger's men through. Here's how they did it:

Confidence and energy: On that night, Arsenal had everything this current side is accused of lacking: confidence, energy and a relentless drive. They showed no respect whatsoever against the reigning European champions and dictated play with a composed and defensively solid performance that was heavily geared toward counter-attacking.

Patience and discipline: At no point did Arsenal lose their cool in this match -- not even when Alexander Hleb was wrongfully booked for a dive when he should have had a free kick just on the edge of the penalty area. Or when Fabregas saw one shot bounce off the crossbar just before half-time, or when Emmanuel Eboue wasted a great chance from 10 yards out shortly after the restart. Instead they remained patient and stuck to the game plan, which paid off when Fabregas drove forward and scored with a perfectly placed long-distance strike.

No individual mistakes: Even the best tactics can fall apart because of individual errors, as proven way too often recently by these Arsenal players. And it was the collective team display that really stood out in 2008, as Fabregas himself pointed out after being named man of the match.

"The performance of the team that day was amazing. I cannot even remember a game like that in the season. We were all at our best," Fabregas later said.

So which version of Arsenal will show up on Thursday? If Wenger wants to stay in his job, he better hope it's one that more resembles his 2008 team than the 2012 version.