Arsenal picked up their first victory in five games with an impressive 2-0 triumph over AC Milan at the San Siro. The win, alongside the two away goals, means that Arsene Wenger’s men will be substantial favourites to progress into the quarter-finals ahead of the second leg at the Emirates.
The victory is obviously important in the grand scheme of Arsenal’s European aspirations this season but beyond that, it’ll be huge for restoring the squad’s confidence. While their ambitions of achieving anything beyond a place in the top five are likely dead in the water in the Premier League, slipping into the Champions League courtesy of silverware in Europe’s secondary club competition could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the under-pressure Wenger.
An end to end start
In the early stages, it seemed as if Milan would pile the pressure onto Arsenal as they came flying out of the blocks. The Gunners gradually worked their way back into what was becoming a frantic game, as Calum Chambers overcame what looked like an early injury scare. The chances began to see-saw back and forth between the two European giants, with Calhanoglu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both going close.
Then, at the 15-minute mark, the Arsenal fans who were tucked away at the top of the iconic Italian stadium were given their money’s worth as Mesut Ozil picked out Mkhitaryan, who cut back onto his right and smashed the ball in off of Bonucci.
It seemed as if the hosts began to get frustrated, as their challenges and general demeanour became a bit cagey. It was at that point when the visitors really put their foot down, with Mkhitaryan hitting the bar before Aaron Ramsey broke the offside trap and rounded the keeper to make it 2-0.
Arsenal just managed to edge possession in the first 45 minutes and they started the second half in a similar way, with Danny Welbeck almost benefitting from a sliced clearance by Franck Kessie. Following a few changes, Milan shifted to having two up front as we entered the latter stages of the game, with Rodriguez’s volley summing up a disappointing first hour for Gennaro Gattuso’s men.
The North London side were clearly setting up shop following what had been a thoroughly successful outing, with Milan stepping up the tempo. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough, as you could begin to see the panic on one side meanwhile Arsenal looked calmer than they’ve done in weeks.
One of the biggest changes which was clear to see from the word go was the passion Arsenal were playing with. The likes of Ramsey and Ozil fought for every ball and looked like there was a genuine urgency in their approach, and that made for a refreshing change of pace after one of the worst months the club has experienced during Wenger’s tenure.
While the 68-year-old isn’t completely out of the woods yet, this result alongside Borussia Dortmund’s loss will likely give supporters renewed hope that they can mount a serious challenge heading into the final few stages of this competition. For now, though, they’ll take it one step at a time, and for tonight at least they can celebrate a victory which very few were anticipating would be this easy.
AC Milan: Donnarumma (5.5); Calabria (5) (Borini (N/A), 79′), Bonucci (5), Romagnoli (5.5), Rodríguez (6.5); Kessié (6), Biglia (4.5), Bonaventura (5); Suso (5), Cutrone (6), (Silva (5.5), 69′), Calhanoglu (6), (Kalinic (5), 63′)
Arsenal: Ospina (6.5); Chambers (6), (Elneny (N/A), 85′), Mustafi (7), Koscielny (7.5), Kolasinac (7), (Maitland-Niles (6.5), 62′); Ramsey (7.5), Xhaka (7), Wilshere (6); Ozil (8.5), (Holding (N/A), 80′), Mkhitaryan (9); Welbeck (8)
Goals: Mkhitaryan (15′), Ramsey (45+4′)
Referee: Clément Turpin
Yellow Cards: Kolasinac (60′), Ramsey (71′)
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