Starting XI: Ospina, Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Ramsey, Xhaka, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Welbeck
Subs: Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Nelson, Nketiah
Arsenal put their wretched recent form behind them to produce an impressive 2-0 win against AC Milan at the San Siro that puts them firmly in control of their Europa League last-sixteen tie.
Two assists from Mesut Ozil lit up the first half as Henrikh Mkhitaryan bagged his first goal for the Gunners and Aaron Ramsey walked in a second in stoppage time.
The home side struggled to create clear-cut chances after the break and when they did they were met with stout defending, characterised by a captain’s performance from Laurent Koscielny. The two sides meet again in seven days time.
Milan were quick out of the traps winning three corners inside the first three minutes and flashing a ball across Ospina’s goal that Bonaventura came inches away from converting at the back post.
Arsenal soon grew into the game with Ozil, Wilshere and Mkhitaryan, ably supported by Kolasinac, putting together some nice moves down the left flank. Our Armenian midfielder had our first effort on 7 minutes, firing into the side netting. It was a warning for the home side.
The game was open and we still looked nervy at the back. Cutrone missed a glorious chance – he hit the side netting – after some dreadful defending by Chambers and Çalhanoğlu might have won a penalty had he gone down after a clumsy challenge by Ospina.
It was noticeable how high up the pitch Arsenal were pressing their opponents. Even better was that it seemed to work as Milan repeatedly surrendered possession in their own half. .
It was from such pressure that we broke the deadlock on 15 minutes. Wilshere and Ramsey combined to win the ball back 40-yards from goal, it was quickly worked to Ozil who in turn lofted a beauty of a pass to Mkhitaryan inside the left channel. He took the ball down on his chest, another touch to cutback on to his right foot and with the aid of a slight deflection fired high past Donnarumma for his first goal in Arsenal colours. (1-0)
It would be exaggerating to say that Milan were shell-shocked by the goal, but they certainly looked a little confused by Arsenal’s discipline after it. Ramsey and Xhaka sat deep to defend the back four, Chambers was bold in making challenges early and Mkhitaryan and Wilshere closed down space whenever it appeared.
In the five minutes before the break we created three very good opportunities. First, Chambers squandered a chance to find any of six Arsenal players in the box. Ramsey gave him daggers after a poor cross. Moments later our right-back, filling in for the injured Bellerin, tested Donnarumma with a left foot volley from 20-yards out. Then Welbeck raced through on goal but the effort was straight down Donnarumma’s throat.
Ospina flapped at a corner as the home side came back into the game but every time we won the ball back we looked dangerous. Mkhitaryan should have doubled the lead a minute into stoppage time of the half. Having been played in by the energetic Welbeck, he again cut on to his right foot but this time clipped the bar with his effort.
Amazingly, there was still time for one last attack. After some nice hold-up play by Welbeck, Ozil played a perfectly weighted pass to Ramsey who defied the Milan offside trap, controlled, walked the ball past Donnarumma and stroked home to double the lead. His celebration was one of anger and defiance. (2-0)
Welbeck came desperately close to adding a third three minutes after the break. A disastrous touch back towards his own goal by Kessie saw the England striker through on goal. Could he get there before Donnarumma? Not quite but the touch from the keeper bounced off our man, who knew nothing about it, and went just over the bar. It would have been a very Welbeck goal.
The odd break aside, Arsenal were content to sit back and defend. Three times Bonaventura, Milan’s most dangerous player, hit efforts high and wide. Koscielny then made a vital interception to stop a ball reaching Kessie who looked like he might be free on goal.
Our first change of the night was enforced on 62 minutes when Kolasinac, who’d been impressive, picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Maitland-Niles.
As the game entered the last 15 minutes our passing started to become more ragged. On the touchline, Gattuso screamed at his team to go for the jugular but they struggled to fashion clear chances. A Suso effort on the angle went out for a throw, before Koscielny made a great block to stop Kessie.
Wenger decided to shut up shop and took off Ozil with Holding adding to the defence. His first touch was to deflect another Bonaventura effort just over. With six minutes remaining Chambers, suffering with cramp, went off leaving Elneny to fill the gap at right-back.
Could we keep a rare clean sheet? That was the big question. We wasted time at every opportunity, much to the annoyance of the capacity crowd, but it did result in five minutes of stoppage time. Time seemed to stand still. All we needed to do was keep the ball, so when Xhaka decided to shoot from 30-yards – an effort that went flying over the bar – Wenger went ballistic. Thankfully, it didn’t matter.
Against the odds, we secured another famous win in the San Siro. Will this be a turning point in our season? Let’s hope so. After a tough few months, this was almost fun.