Arsenal in Champions League: “Glorious failure … but failure nonetheless.”

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So said the voice as Arsenal’s furious UEFA Champions League rally proved just a little less furious than it had to be Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger’s Gunners needed four against suddenly staggering AC Milan. They got three. Better luck next year, Gunners.

Credit, of course, to AC Milan. Italy’s Serie A giants forgot how to defend over the first 45, when Arsenal inspired so much hope around the Emirates Stadium with an unforgettable three-goal barrage.  But possession improved for the Italians, Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati made the saves that mattered, and the Premier League side fell in the first knockout stage.

There’s no question that Arsenal isn’t what it was before. Wenger simply is fighting with a shorter stick these days. Just look at it this way: Last year, Tomas Rosicky was a role player, someone often used to spell Cesc Fabregas, who is now another Barca baby among Pep Guardiola’s embarrassment of riches at the Nou Camp. Meanwhile, Rosicky is more or less asked run the attack through midfield, especially given how disappointing Andrei Arshavin has been this year.

For me, that’s the difference. Last year’s second-string is this year’s man on the spot. The problem isn’t Wenger (who has surely done enough now to keep the wolves at bay), it’s a roster that just doesn’t look very Arsenal-like.  If not for Robin van Persie’s peerless striking form, things around the Emirates might be seriously circling the drain.

But Wednesday’s run at unlikely glory wasn’t all for nothing. Such a memorable performance should fill Wenger’s men with confidence and spirit. On top of other big results over the last two weeks, Arsenal can feel good about things, perhaps staying in the No. 4 position along the Premiership table. (Chelsea and Newcastle, of course, will have something to say about that, too.) Fourth place means another shot at Champions League play in 2013-14.