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Telegraph / Sports

AC Milan 0 Arsenal 2: Arsene Wenger's side earn precious respite with dominant Europa League win

Arsene Wenger’s career has been far too long, and far too successful, for a round-of-16 match in Europe’s secondary competition to rank among his greatest nights.


Arsene Wenger’s career has been far too long, and far too successful, for a round-of-16 match in Europe’s secondary competition to rank among his greatest nights. And yet the pure satisfaction he will derive from this result, this taming of a buoyant AC Milan side in a packed-out San Siro, will surely compare to anything else he has experienced in these turbulent recent years.

Given the circumstances, this was a quite extraordinary response from a group of players that had themselves admitted to falling into a “negative spiral” following four consecutive defeats. Their season was finished, they had been told, with their hopes of Champions League qualification extinguished in the Premier League by a 13-point gap to fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal were on the ropes, as Wenger admitted afterwards.

“It’s like a boxing match,” he said. “You are half knocked down and have to face another opponent before you get up again.”

This meeting with Milan, their final hope of salvaging this sorry campaign, looked to be a mountain too steep. Gennaro Gattuso’s side had not lost since before Christmas. They had not even conceded a goal in their last six matches.

To extend Wenger’s analogy, Arsenal were waiting a knockout blow and it fell to Gattuso, never one to shy away from a fight, to deliver one final punch for this season, and surely for Wenger’s time at the club.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan fires Arsenal in front Credit:Getty Images

Instead, Henrikh Mkhitaryan showed why his manager thought he was a worthy replacement for Alexis Sanchez, and Mesut Ozil demonstrated why he merits wages of £350,000 a week. Mkhitaryan scored one, Ozil created two, and a defence that had been so shattered by Brighton last weekend was  suddenly controlling a resurgent Milan. By the time Aaron Ramsey strolled through to net the second goal, leaving the prodigious goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma flailing helplessly, Arsenal could have had three or four.

“In one week you do not become a bad team or a bad player,” Wenger said. “Nothing is permanent in life.”

The job is not done – if any side is capable of shipping three goals in the second leg, it is Arsenal – but this was far more than they could have hoped for. Not least Wenger, whose stubborn belief that he  remains the best man for the job will only have been fuelled by a showing that no one saw coming.

“Overall, at some stage you need to respond together with a good performance,” he said. “That is what we did. We have won a game, we are not qualified. The result will lift the belief in the team a little bit.”

Aaron Ramsey makes it 2-0 from close rangeCredit:Getty Images

For the home side, who had not conceded a goal in 539 minutes  before Mkhitaryan’s effort, this was a night to rue their own sloppiness. A speculative shot from Suso that bobbled out for a throw-in seemed to encapsulate their night.

“We committed a lot of mistakes,” Gattuso said. “I probably made some mistakes in not making myself understood. We suffered.”

But they started well. Milan forced two corners in the opening 90 seconds, and Giacomo Bonaventura almost had a tap-in at the back post. “We got away with it,” Wenger said.

At this stage, it looked as if these stuttering Arsenal players were tumbling deeper into the “negative spiral” that Laurent Koscielny had discussed ahead of the match. But Milan’s midfield appeared to have been infected by a confidence crisis of their own.

Arsene Wenger talks to his players during Thursday's winCredit:REUTERS

After 14 minutes, Ozil floated one of those languid passes into the path of Mkhitaryan, who chopped back inside before his shot cannoned off Leonardo Bonucci and past Donnarumma for his first goal in an Arsenal shirt.

From there, both sides were sloppy in possession. These may have been teams with Champions League pedigree, but for large parts there was no mistaking the fact that this was Europa League football. Still, Arsenal pushed for a second and Danny Welbeck was thwarted by Donnarumma.

Fortunately for Arsenal, Ramsey more than made up for Welbeck’s lack of composure in stoppage time of the first half. Again it was Ozil with the pass, and Ramsey was left all alone as he sent Donnarumma sprawling before tapping in.

Having flourished going forward in the first half, Arsenal were able to solidify after the break. But Milan will no doubt come again next week, and Arsenal may collapse. What is for certain, though, is that Wenger has arrested the slide for now at least.

7:58PM

Full-time

That's it, after a very professional performance from Arsene Wenger's side, it finishes: AC Milan 0 Arsenal 2

7:55PM

90+3 min

Wenger is furious at Xhaka for giving possession away by taking a speculative shot from 30 yards that flies high and wide. 

7:54PM

90+ 2 min

Bonaventura wins a very soft free-kick off Elneny out wide. Thankfully for Arsenal, it comes to nothing. 

7:53PM

90 min

Five minutes of time to be added on.

7:51PM

89 min

Arsenal keep the ball well, and when they eventually do lose it Maitland-Niles nips in to claim it back. The clock is ticking for Milan...

7:48PM

86 min

Chambers has picked up a knock, and the central midfielder Elneny will replace him at right wing-back. 

7:46PM

84 min

Brilliant sweeper-keeping from Ospina, who flies out of his goal to deny the onrushing Kalinic. Excellent concentration levels from the Arsenal keeper. 

7:44PM

82 min

Maitland-Niles, who has looked very assured since coming on, cleverly wins a free-kick off Suso. Arsenal can gratefully waste a bit more time. 

7:43PM

81 min

That Holding change is partly a response to Milan going far more direct since bringing on Silva and Kalinic. Rodriguez and Suso are peppering the Arsenal defence with crosses, but at the moment Koscielny and co are holding firm. 

7:42PM

78 min

Chance for Milan. Maitland-Niles fails to clear Rodriguez's cross, and the ball lands at Suso's feet. Suso though slices his shot horribly high and wide. The ball almost goes off for a throw-in. 

Gattuso responds by making his final change - Calabria off, the former Liverpool forward Borini on. 

Arsenal meanwhile take off Ozil for Holding. Looks like the visitors are moving to a 3-4-3. 

7:39PM

77 min

Milan trying to build up a head of steam, but still nothing doing. Ospina easily claims Rodriguez's left-wing cross. 

7:36PM

74 min

Still no sign of Wenger bringing on Elneny to try and kill the game. There can't be many managers in Europe who wouldn't have made that change by now. 

7:35PM

72 min

Bonaventura slips as he hits it, and his weak effort is cleared by the Arsenal wall. By the law of averages, surely Bonaventura will get one of these right sooner or later? 

7:34PM

71 min

Slightly odd one here. Ramsey is booked for a perceived high foot on Biglia about 25 yards out. Not even sure that's a foul. Anyway it's a free-kick in a very central area for Milan...

7:31PM

68 min

Decent opening for Milan, as Mustafi's poor headed clearance land perfectly at the feet of Rodriguez. The left-back's eyes light up but he drags his volley wide. 

Milan then make their second change - the £33m summer signing Andre Silva comes on for Cutrone.

Credit:AFP

7:27PM

65 min

Mustafi does well to get in front of Kalinic and win a free-kick for his side. Just the one shot on target for Milan so far. 

Milan vs Arsenal shots on goal

7:26PM

63 min

Kolasinac is asking to be taken off with an injury. Not sure exactly what the problem is. He'll be replaced by Maitland-Niles, who has played at left-back a few times - with mixed results - this season. Liverpool ruthlessly exposed his lack of defensive experience back in December - he'll need to be switched on here. 

Milan also make a change - the former Blackburn striker Kalinic on for Calhanoglu. Looks like Milan are switching to two up front. 

7:23PM

61 min 

Kolasinac is booked for a handball off Suso's flick. A bit harsh that, given how close the defender was to the ball. 

7:22PM

60 min

Bonaventura has what feels like his 17th shot of the match. This one is nowhere near the target from about 30 yards out. 

7:21PM

59 min

Wilshere has given the ball away a few times this half. Wouldn't be surprised to see him replaced by Elneny fairly soon. 

This is amazing by the way:

Half-time stat: Mesut Ozil's new £350,000-a-week contract means he earns more in three days than Gennaro Gattuso makes in a year. Gattuso's terms (€120,000 per year) haven't changed since he was promoted from the youth team in November.

— Sam Dean (@SamJDean) March 8, 2018

7:19PM

57 min

Again Bonaventura  is able to get a shot away. This time it's deflected wide. Kolasinac then does well to dispossess Suso from the resulting corner. 

7:18PM

55 min

A Calabria foul throw prompts the most wonderful flurry of wild Italian gesticulating from Gattuso on the sidelines. 

7:15PM

52 min

Good chance for Milan, but Bonaventura sends his shot well over from Calabria's low cross. Bonaventura was about 12 yards out and plum in front of goal. He really should have done better. Arsenal's midfielders need to track Bonaventura, who's finding pockets of space in dangerous areas. 

7:13PM

50 min

Bonaventura has a pop from the edge of the box that is easily claimed by Ospina. 

7:13PM

49 min

Oh my word, Arsenal should really be 3-0 up. Kessie plays a dreadful back pass that sets up Welbeck for another glorious chance. Welbeck gets there just before Donnarumma but the goalkeeper manages to divert the ball back onto Welbeck, and it flies wide. 

Credit:Getty Images

7:10PM

48 min

Xhaka winds up the home fans with some pretty flagrant time-wasting. He then receives a lengthy 'quiet word' from the referee, which is presumably precisely what he wanted. 

7:08PM

46 min

We're back under way. No changes for either side. The two benches look like this incidentally:

Milan: A Donnarumma, Zapata, Locatelli, Montolivo, Borini, Kalinic, Andre Silva

Arsenal: Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Nelson, Nketiah

7:04PM

Danny boy

Welbeck by the way has been very impressive. He missed a good chance, but his work-rate and link up play have been superb. (I'm aware that description pretty much summarises his career). 

Credit:Getty Images

7:03PM

So far, so good for Arsenal

Well, that was unexpected. Arsenal, who had lost their previous four matches coming into this, have produced their best performance in weeks to be leading 2-0 against a team who were unbeaten in 13. Perhaps the standard of Serie A has declined even more than we thought?

What we can say with certainty is that Milan have been awful, giving the ball away cheaply and allowing Arsenal's attacking midfielders to amble into the spaces they are vacating in behind. 

On that note, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan have all been very impressive. But Gattuso, one of the finest defensive midfielders of his generation, will be raging at how much space Arsenal's creative players have been given. 

Surely the hosts will be better in the second half? Or will they bomb forward and leave their defence even more exposed?

Credit:AP

6:54PM

Half-time

The half-time whistle goes. Arsenal players walk to the tunnel with their chests puffed out; Milan's players look shellshocked. 

6:51PM

GOAL!!! Milan 0 Arsenal 2 (Ramsey 45')

Arsenal do get the second goal their play has deserved! Ozil makes it with a perfectly-weighted slide-rule pass into Ramsey, who rounds Donnarumma and then taps home into an empty net. 

Brilliant composure from Ramsey to cap a superb half from Arsenal. Where has this performance come from? 

Milan 0 - 2 Arsenal (Aaron Ramsey, 45 + 4 min)

6:50PM

45+4 min

Suso sends a shot high and wide into the stands from distance after Koscielny had got a crucial head onto Calabria's cross to deny the onrushing Bonaventura. 

6:49PM

45+2 min

Oh my, what a chance that is for 2-0. Welbeck does brilliantly to burst down the right and play in Mkhitaryan, who again takes his time and cuts in for a right-footed shot. This time he gets under the ball and his shot clips the bar and then out to safety. 

6:48PM

45+1 min (four minutes of time to be added on)

Suso wins a pretty cheap free-kick off Ramsey, that he takes himself but smacks straight into the wall. 

6:46PM

44 min

Crikey, Ospina did not look comfortable there. The goalkeeper gets nowhere near to claiming Calhanoglu's corner, but fortunately for Arsenal no Milan player can get on the end of it.  

Calhanoglu's set pieces have looked very dangerous so far. 

6:45PM

43 min

Almost a second goal for Arsenal. First Ozil and Welbeck work the ball to Chambers, who connects cleanly with a left-footed volley that's beaten away by Donnarumma. 

Then moments later Welbeck is clean through but his attempt to pass the ball into the corner is telegraphed by Donnarumma, who makes an easy save. 

They've definitely been good enough for this second goal. Will they regret not grabbing it? 

6:42PM

40 min

Bonaventura gives the ball away carelessly and the whole of San Siro howls in frustration.

Arsenal then fly forward down the right with Wilshere and then Chambers, before the full-back's cross is just too high for Welbeck. Arsenal had seven players in the penalty area at the end of that attack! 

Credit:REUTERS

6:39PM

37 min

Bonaventura cuts in from the left and fizzes in a wicked cross that curls beyond the Milan attackers trying to get on the end of it. Milan have been better these last few minutes. 

6:38PM

36 min

Ramsey flies in a little recklessly on Calhanoglu about 30 yards out to give away a needless free-kick. Suso takes it, but Xhaka heads clear. 

6:35PM

33 min

A rare couple of minutes without incident. Arsenal pressing the Milan defenders well, and they eventually win the ball back in midfield. 

6:32PM

30 min

Milan push for the equaliser, as Suso's cross is fisted by Ospina straight to Bonaventura, who smacks an awkward looking volley a few yards wide. 

Ospina and Mustafi clashed heads in that exchange and are getting treatment. A few Arsenal fans might be hoping both men stay down. 

6:31PM

29 min

Arsenal play a corner short and eventually work the ball into Wilshere in space inside the box, but he hesitates a touch and is crowded out for another corner. Mkhitaryan goes for a longer option this time, but the ball evades eceryone. 

6:29PM

27 min

The Milan fans are growing frustrated by their team's carelessness. You do feel this is the time for Arsenal to strike, especially as Ozil is being afforded so much space to stroll through midfield. 

Credit:AP

6:27PM

25 min

Milan are giving the ball away so cheaply, and if Arsenal were a bit more clinical they'd have punished them more than just the once. Arsenal's final ball is just letting them down a touch. 

Milan vs Arsenal shots on goal

6:26PM

24 min

Kolasinac is having so much joy down that left flank. He's absolutely bombing forward and linking up beautifully with Mkhitaryan. Arsenal again look dangerous exploiting that avenue, before Milan eventually get the ball away. 

Calabria is down once more, and looking like he might have to go off this time. 

6:23PM

21 min

Calabria whips in a hanging cross to the back post that's just too long for Calhanoglu. 

6:22PM

19 min

Calabria is down getting treatment but looks to be ok to carry on, as Kolasinac pulls off a beautiful Maradona roulette. 

Our man Sam Dean is enjoying what he's saying at San Siro so far.

Breathless start at the San Siro, where both sides have had plenty of space, and made plenty of sloppy mistakes on the ball. Remarkably open game. There are goals in this one...

6:19PM

17 min

That's the first goal Milan have conceded in 539 minutes of football. Can Arsenal hang onto this lead?

6:16PM

GOAL!!! Milan 0 Arsenal 1 (Mkhitaryan 15')

Ozil plays a beautiful pass to Mkhitaryan, who cuts inside Calabria and flashes in a shot right-footed that takes a big deflection off Bonucci and flies into the back of the net. 

Mkhitaryan's first goal for Arsenal, and what a time to get it. 

Milan 0 - 1 Arsenal (Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 15 min)

6:14PM

13 min

Why didn't he go down? Calhanoglu rounds Ospina, and if he goes down that's a penalty. But he stays on his feet and a goal kick is awarded. What was Ospina doing there? In absolute no-man's' land. 

6:13PM

11 min

Kolasinac bursts into the box again, and Welbeck is close to getting on the end of it. Up at the other end, Cutrone pokes an effort into the side-netting after being played in by Calhanoglu. Mustafi's positioning was extremely suspect there. 

It looks like there are goals in this for both sides. 

6:10PM

9 min

Good chance for Arsenal. Ozil and Wilshere combine nicely, before the ball is rolled to Mkhitaryan, who lashes a low shot wide of the near post. Decent opening that from inside the box. 

6:09PM

8 min

A bit better from Arsenal, with some meaty challenges giving them a degree of control back in the middle of midfield. 

6:08PM

7 min

Another good Arsenal move ends with Kolasinac's low cross hacked clear by Bonucci. Chambers is down with a knock but seems to be ok. 

6:06PM

5 min

Welbeck should do better on the edge of the box. Chambers picks him out, but Welbeck completely misses the ball and a promising Arsenal attack comes to nowt. 

6:05PM

3 min

Ramsey loses the ball easily in central midfield, which allows Cutrone to advance down the left and win a corner off Mustafi. Arsenal get the ball clear, but Koscielny is a little sloppy and concedes a second corner under pressure from Cutrone. Bonaventura is inches away from a tap-in at the back post, but Arsenal survive. 

It's all Milan in the first few minutes. 

6:02PM

Kick-off

We're under way. Milan are in their famous black and red stripes, while Arsenal are all in blue. 

6:01PM

A minute's silence

Both teams pay their respects to Davide Astore, the Fiorentina and Italy defender who passed away so tragically on Sunday. 

5:59PM

The teams are out

San Siro is packed out, the Arsenal fans are way up in the gods, and there's a big noise greeting the players as they take to the pitch. The famous Europa League anthem blares around the ground, and we're a minute away from kick off. 

A reminder of the two teams:

AC Milan (4-3-3): G Donnarumma; Calabria, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Rodriguez; Bonaventura, Biglia, Kessie; Suso, Cutrone, Calhanoglu

Subs: A Donnarumma, Zapata, Locatelli, Montolivo, Borini, Kalinic, Andre Silva

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Xhaka, Wilshere; Ozil, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan

Subs: Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Nelson, Nketiah

5:51PM

Wet behind the ears?

Gattuso, the AC Milan manager, is asked about his experience compared to his counterpart Arsene Wenger, and responds: "I am a chick compared to him."

Gennaro “Rino” Gattuso | At a glance

5:38PM

We meet again

The last time these two sides met was in 2012, in a last-16 Champions League first leg. Milan were the Serie A champions, and with a team that included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Thiago Silva battered Arsenal 4-0. La Repubblica called the game "a massacre". 

Arsenal won the return leg 3-0 but the damage was done, and they were eliminated 4-3 on aggregate. 

Arsenal at the time were seen as a soft touch, who were struggling to recapture past glories with a manager who many thought was past his best. What a difference six years makes! 

A more happier visit to San Siro came four years earlier, when goals from Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor secured a 2-0 win that knocked Milan, the reigning European champions, out of the competition at the last-16 stage. 

Arsenal were battered on their last visit to MilanCredit:Reuters

5:30PM

That Arsenal bench by the way...

...I mean. Let's just hope they don't need a goal at any point. 

Subs: Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Nelson, Nketiah

5:26PM

What to look out for

So, no surprises in either line-up. Arsenal's injuries and the ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang mean it's more a case of cobbling a team together than facing tough selection dilemmas. That said, there's a strong argument for starting either Elneny or Maitland-Niles to bolster the central midfield area where Arsenal have looked flimsy for the best part of a decade.

For Milan expect the very dangerous wingers Suso (once of Liverpool) and Calhanoglu to ruthlessly try and expose Chambers and Kolasinac, who are deputising as Arsenal's full-backs tonight. 

Biglia will attempt to boss the midfield area from a deeper position, which will allow Kessie and Bonaventura to get forward when Milan are in possession. When Arsenal have the ball, Milan will drop into more of a 4-1-4-1 and attempt to press Arsenal's central defenders high up the pitch. 

A reminder that Milan have not conceded a goal for 524 minutes, and boast a centre-back pairing of the hugely experienced former Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci and the increasingly impressive Alessio Romagnoli. 

The man attempting to finally breach the Milan rearguard is...Danny Welbeck, who is without a goal in his last eight games. 

AC Milan warm up for tonight's gameCredit:REUTERS

5:02PM

As is the Milan team...

Likewise, it's as we thought:

AC Milan (4-3-3): G Donnarumma; Calabria, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Rodriguez; Bonaventura, Biglia, Kessie; Suso, Cutrone, Calhanoglu

Subs: A Donnarumma A., Zapata, Locatelli, Montolivo, Borini, Kalinic, Andre Silva

And if text is a bit old school for you, Milan's Twitter feed has revealed their team with beautiful hyperbole like so: 

🔊 TURN SOUND ON 🔊
And come to San Siro with us as we present you our starting XI 🆚 @Arsenal
Ready to be hyped? 👊🏼
Le emozioni, la voce, il boato di San Siro 🏟
Ovunque voi siate, Benvenuti nella casa del Miiiiiilaaaaaan ♥⚫#ACMAFC #UEL #weareateam pic.twitter.com/i8tx2zaDmZ

— AC Milan (@acmilan) March 8, 2018

4:58PM

The Arsenal team is in

And it's as we expected...

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Xhaka, Wilshere; Ozil, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan

Subs: Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Nelson, Nketiah

📋 Here's how we line up at San Siro for tonight's game against @acmilan #ACMvAFC pic.twitter.com/tVuSbXwxgF

— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) March 8, 2018

4:28PM

Probable teams

We'll have the team news at about 5pm, but this is what we're expecting:  

AC Milan (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Rodriguez; Bonaventura, Biglia, Kessie; Suso, Cutrone, Calhanoglu

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Xhaka, Wilshere; Ozil, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan

3:54PM

Preamble

Afternoon all,

Welcome to our live blog of this catchy-sounding Europa League last-16 first-leg! Having played against a mixture of part-timers and second-raters, Arsenal's continental adventure becomes a lot more interesting this evening as they travel to the mighty AC Milan. 

Or perhaps that should be the once-mighty AC Milan. Because for a great club - only Real Madrid have been European champions more than Milan - it's been a rotten few years. They are without a Serie A title since 2011 and have finished eighth, tenth, seventh and sixth in the last four seasons. As they sleepwalked towards the mire of mediocrity once again this season, the club's owners acted and replaced Vincenzo Montella with Gennaro Gattuso in November. 

After a slow start and despite a patchy managerial CV, Gattuso has won over the sceptics and now has the team on a 13-match unbeaten run and a sequence of six matches without a goal. You can read all about how he's done it here. The very short version is that this has not been a case of Gattuso coming in and scaring his players into performing - his approach has been far more nuanced, and his tactical prowess has been just as impressive as his motivational skills. 

Speaking of clubs that were once-mighty, Milan's opponents tonight Arsenal find themselves in an almighty pickle. They are on their worst run in 16 years having lost their last four matches, and Arsene Wenger appears to be on the way out at last. During Sunday's defeat at Brighton, many Wenger's charges looked so lost and disillusioned it brought back memories of those Chelsea "rats" downing tools during the dog days of Jose Mourinho's second spell.

Milan are unbeaten in their last 13 matchesCredit:Getty Images

Arsenal fans could be forgiven for looking at the way Gattuso has revitalised Milan, and hoping that Wenger's replacement - whoever that might be - could do something similar.  

As well as a trophy at stake at the end of all of this, there's also the carrot of Champions League qualification. Both teams are unlikely to qualify through their domestic league so this competition represents their best chance of clambering back into Europe's elite. 

The form guide points to a Milan win over the two legs. Should that happen, even the great escapologist Wenger will surely have run out of lives? 

My prediction tonight for what it's worth is a 2-0 AC Milan win. 

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