Arsene, a word of advice: take this performance here at the San Siro and bottle it. Screw the lid on extra tight, and whatever you do, don’t spill a drop.
Because Mr Wenger, it’s this Arsenal that keeps you in a job. It’s this Arsenal that has a fighting chance of winning the Europa League. It’s this Arsenal that can muster a semblance of pride from another disappointing season under your stewardship.
More than ever, Wenger needed his players to respond. The consequence of a heavy defeat against AC Milan would surely have put Wenger on the brink. Finally, though, Arsenal came through for their beleaguered manager, goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey ensuring their latest crisis didn’t plummet to deeper depths.
Lose against Watford on Sunday and Wenger will face further questions about his future. That’s life at Arsenal right now. Not on Thursday night, though. Wenger’s players ensuring their manager at least a few days of respite. The two weeks Wenger’s endured, he’ll take anything he can get right now.
All of a sudden the Europa League has taken on significant importance for Wenger. You could tell, too. Win the competition, and Wenger almost certainly keeps his job. Elimination? Well, that doesn’t bear thinking about for the Frenchman.
On a night where staying in the tie ahead of next week’s return leg at the Emirates was the be all and end all, being pragmatic wasn’t the worst idea.
Indeed, the Gunners had to be resolute during the opening five minutes as Milan came storming out of the blocks, Giacomo Bonaventura a whisker away from tapping in Suso’s wicked in-swinging cross. You’d have feared for Arsenal if they conceded early. Showing character in adversity is hardly their strong point.
Suso then fired into the side netting after finding gaping holes down Arsenal’s left before Hakan Calhanoglu chose to stay on his feet when going down would likely have given referee Clement Turpin a huge decision to make after David Ospina wildly rushed out of his goal.
Slowly, though, Arsenal stemmed the tide. Mkhitaryan fired into the side-netting after a threatening move including Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil before Danny Welbeck miscontrolled in a dangerous position inside Milan’s penalty area.
When Arsenal’s opener arrived in the 15th minute, it was somewhat fortuitous; Mkhitaryan’s strike from Ozil’s pass taking a big deflection off Leonardo Bonucci before flying past Gianluigi Donnarumma – but if there’s a football club and manager who could do with a break at the moment, then it’s Arsenal. Just like that, you could see the confidence gently seep back into Wenger’s men.
AC Milan are much improved since Gattuso took over in November. The fact Mkhitaryan’s goal was the first the San Siro outfit have conceded since February 10 paints a pretty formidable picture, but after weathering the early storm, Arsenal had the measure of the Italians.
Wilshere, playing in the No 10 role, was having the sort of influence on a game that will surely see him handed an England recall when Gareth Southgate names his squad for the friendlies against Holland and Italy next week.
Ozil was strutting around like he owned the place while Mkhitaryan was proving an absolute menace to mark as he ventured in from the left-hand side.
Calum Chambers forced Donnarumma into a good save at his near post before Welbeck fired straight at the Milan keeper when sent clean through in the 43rd minute.
A second goal wouldn’t have flattered Arsenal either. They came close again seconds later, Mkhitaryan thumping his effort off the cross bar after a rapid counter attacker led by Welbeck.