Arsenal eased the pressure on Arsene Wenger with an impressive 2-0 first-leg victory at AC Milan in the Europa League last 16, ending a four-game losing streak in the process.
A deflected strike saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan get off the mark for Arsenal (15), and having conceded their first goal in 569 minutes, Milan soon found themselves 2-0 down when Aaron Ramsey rounded Gianluigi Donnarumma in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time.
Both goals were superbly assisted by Mesut Ozil, and after a bold attacking display in the opening 45 minutes, Arsenal’s defence stood firm after the break to seal a morale-boosting win.
With Europa League glory Arsenal’s most likely route to Champions League football next season, the club will look to defend their two-goal lead and book a quarter-final spot when hosting the return leg next Thursday.
AC Milan: G.Donnarumma (6), Calabria (5), Bonucci (6), Romagnoli (5), Rodriguez (6), Biglia (5), Bonaventura (6), Kessie (5), Calhanoglu (6), Suso (5), Cutrone (5)
Subs: Kalinic (6), Andre Silva (6), Borini (6)
Arsenal: Ospina (6), Chambers (6), Koscielny (8), Mustafi (7), Kolasinac (6), Xhaka (6), Ramsey (7), Wilshere (7), Ozil (8), Mkhitaryan (7), Welbeck (6)
Subs: Maitland-Niles (6), Holding (6), Elneny (n/a)
Man of the match: Mesut Ozil
Milan started off brightly, with a deflected cross narrowly evading Giacomo Bonaventura, but Arsenal recovered well and went close when Mkhitaryan fired an effort into the side netting.
David Ospina could then have easily conceded a penalty, but the Arsenal goalkeeper was fortunate to see Hakan Calhanoglu hurdle his attempt to claim the ball. Had the Milan player gone down, referee Clement Turpin would perhaps have felt more inclined to point to the spot.
Moments later, Ozil picked out Mkhitaryan down the left, with the Armenia international scoring his first goal for Arsenal when cutting inside and striking past Donnarumma – with the aid of a sizeable deflection off Leonardo Bonucci.
AC Milan were unchanged from the side that drew 0-0 with Lazio in the Coppa Italia last week – former Liverpool forward Suso started in attack.
David Ospina replaced Petr Cech in goal for Arsenal, while Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck replaced the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Iwobi, who dropped to the bench.
Arsenal continued to press, and after Mkhitaryan skimmed the bar, Ramsey latched onto a delightful through ball from Ozil before rounding the goalkeeper to hand the visitors a 2-0 half-time lead.
Danny Welbeck almost benefited from a fortuitous ricochet after the break, but the ball bounced wide after Donnarumma rushed out to parry the ball off the forward.
Arsenal sought to preserve their lead, and while Bonaventura’s speculative effort forced Ospina into making his only save before the ‘keeper rushed out to deny Nikola Kalinic, the hosts’ night was perhaps summed up best by a Suso strike which swerved out for a throw-in.
- This was Arsenal’s first win in the opening leg of a last 16 European tie since February 2011 (2-1 v Barcelona in the Champions League).
- The Gunners are the first side to beat AC Milan at the San Siro in the Europa League/UEFA Cup since February 2002 (0-1 v Roda JC) – the Italians had gone 10 games without losing between these defeats.
- Arsenal’s victory ended a run of 13 games without defeat for AC Milan in all competitions, with their previous loss before this coming back in December 2017 (v Atalanta in Serie A).
- Mesut Özil has been directly involved in 100 goals in 189 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal (37 goals and 63 assists).
- With five goals and nine assists in all competitions this season, Özil (14) has had a hand in more goals than any other Arsenal player.
- Seven of the Armenian’s last nine goals in all competitions have been scored in European fixtures (six in the Europa League and one in the Champions League).
- Arsenal’s opener ended a run of 599 minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions for AC Milan.
His two assists at the San Siro were simply sublime. Few players on the pitch would have had the vision and skill to pick out Mkhitaryan for the first goal, while his pass for Ramsey was eye-of-the-needle stuff.
Arsenal vs Watford
March 11, 2018, 12:30pm
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Arsenal have never lost four Premier League games in a row under Wenger – having last done so under caretaker Stewart Houston – and they will look to avoid that unwanted record when hosting Watford on Nissan Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 12.30pm.