Video: Arsenal beat Milan to end ‘nightmare week’ on a high
Arsene Wenger’s side take control of the Europa League tie with a 2-0 victory at the San Siro
AC Milan 0 Arsenal 2
It was the result many Arsenal fans were fearing - a victory in Italy, the sort that will be used by Arsene Wenger and owner Stan Kroenke to once more paper over the yawning cracks at the Emirates.
The impressive 2-0 win at the San Siro in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie means the Gunners should progress to the last eight when the two clubs meet for the second leg in north London next Thursday.
With the competition their only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, Wenger was understandably cock-a-hoop with his side’s polished performance.
“It is an important win because we had a nightmare week,” said the Frenchman, whose side had lost their last four games going into last night’s tie. “When you have big disappointments you forget quickly that you have some qualities. In one week, you do not become a bad team or a bad player. Nothing is permanent in life.”
The Gunners took the lead on 15 minutes when Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored his first goal for the club he joined from Manchester United in January, and Aaron Ramsey doubled the visitors’ advantage just before the break.
It was a result that few of Arsenal’s 2,000 fans in the San Siro had expected, despite the fact that AC Milan are unrecognisable from the side that once menaced European football.
Seventh in Serie A and 25 points behind leaders Napoli, the Italians are, like Arsenal, a fallen giant, reduced to Thursday night football while their rivals enjoy the bright lights of the Champions League.
That’s why it will worry Arsenal fans - this week 88% of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust’s (AST) 1,000 members voted in favour of Wenger’s contract being terminated in May - that they remain on course to win the Europa League.
A trophy would be welcome, of course it would, but three FA Cup wins in the past four years have allowed the 68-year-old Frenchman to cling on to his position, all the while failing to address the serious deficiencies in the make-up of his squad.
And in some of his post-match comments it was evident Wenger still doesn’t understand the deep malaise within his squad.
“When you are knocked down it’s a little bit like in a boxing match when you’re half-knocked down you don’t have time to recover and the next one comes again,” he said. “That’s what happened to us. But at some stage you know you have to respond. Your pride and desire to show quality has to come through in the game.”
But pride and desire - when indeed Arsenal do manage to find those traits in matches - will only take you so far. Skill and competence are also needed, and those qualities are glaringly missing from this Arsenal squad, who have won only five out of 15 matches this year.
But Wenger chose to ignore all those defeats, focusing instead on the two recent 3-0 losses to Manchester City in the League Cup final and Premier League.
“We lost against a team who are dominating English football at the moment,” he said. “We have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that the team has no spirit.”
That was an extraordinary statement, a confession that Arsenal are no longer in the same league as Manchester City and should accept that. How the mighty have fallen.
Europa League round of 16 first-leg results
- Atletico Madrid 3 Lokomotiv Moscow 0
- Borussia Dortmund 1 FC Red Bull Salzburg 2
- CSKA Moscow 0 Lyon 1
- AC Milan 0 Arsenal 2
- Lazio 2 Dynamo Kiev 2
- Marseille 3 Athletic Bilbao 1
- RB Leipzig 2 Zenit St Petersburg 1
- Sporting Lisbon 2 Viktoria Plzen 0
Second-leg fixtures - Thursday, 15 March (6pm UK unless stated)
- Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Atletico Madrid (0-3; 4pm)
- Athletic Bilbao vs. Marseille (1-3)
- Dynamo Kiev vs. Lazio (2-2)
- Viktoria Plzen vs. Sporting Lisbon (0-2)
- Zenit St Petersburg vs. RB Leipzig (1-2)
- Arsenal vs. AC Milan (2-0; 8.05pm)
- FC Red Bull Salzburg vs. Borussia Dortmund (2-1; 8.05pm)
- Lyon vs. CSKA Moscow (1-0; 8.05pm)