Arsenal 3-1 AC Milan (5-1 on aggregate): Gunners march on in Europe after easing past Serie A giants
PUBLISHED: 22:02 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 23:28 15 March 2018
Danny Loo Photography 2018
Arsenal marched on to the last eight of the Europa League after comprehensively beating AC Milan 3-1 at a passionate Emirates to clinch the tie a stunning 5-1 on aggregate against the Serie A giants.
Two strikes from Danny Welbeck sandwiched between a Granit Xkaha goal saw the Gunners through after Hakan Calhanoglu put the visitors ahead on 35 minutes.
There was controversy during the equaliser as the penalty awarded looked to be soft as Welbeck swept past Ricardo Rodriguez only to go down easily. However the former Manchester United man picked himself up and slotted home the crucial spot-kick to change the whole momentum of the match.
Arsenal had started a strong side including Aaron Ramsey before he is set to have minor surgery during the international break while on-loan striker Fabio Borini started at right-back for Milan
Arsenal had never failed to progress in a European tie including qualifiers when they had won the first leg by two or more goals, progressing on 24 occasions.
Hopes, if not high, were significantly charged, as from the 23 matches played at the Emirates this season Wenger’s side had only lost three. Two to the Manchester duo of City and United. The other? Ostersunds.
Andre Silva broke through before a minute had elapsed as a few hearts fluttered as he hit the side netting. It would have been typical Arsenal to have conceded so early.
As it was the near miss only added to the good atmosphere in the ground, fuelled not only by 3,000 vociferous travelling Milan fans, but also the home support which was determined to support their team – and with the latest banner inside the ground which called for respect and loyalty to Wenger, the boss too.
On 15 minutes captain Laurent Koscielny hobbled off to be replaced by Calum Chambers which Wenger later attributed to a kick in the back.
While chances were few and far between Arsenal enjoyed intriguing spells of possession in and around Milan’s defensive third which saw good movement, technique and passing – as Aaron Ramsey looked lively. Mesut Ozil working well and Jack Wilshere imposing his will on the midfield.
It was also good to see Welbeck exhibiting his England credentials by beating Leonardo Bonucci in the box as he fired a powerful shot directly Gianluigi Donnarumma who blocked.
For Welbeck has talent. Whether he has confidence and fitness is another matter entirely.
With ten minutes to go until the break the match suddenly came to life.
Hakan Calhanoglu, who impressed in the opening stages of the first match at the San Siro curled one past David Ospina to put the Rossoneri ahead from 30 yards.
The goal marked the end of the phoney war that saw both teams gently probe.
Arsenal responded to the challenge by increasing their intensity which saw Welbeck charge into the box.
Ricardo Rodriguez – a Swiss team-mate of Xhaka – struggled to get goalside of the onrushing forward. It was bad defending from the Zurich-born former Wolfsburg left-back and as he continued his diagonal run across Welbeck the Arsenal forward fell to the ground.
At first glance it looked like a harsh penalty – and the second and third views didn’t change any minds. But the fact remained the Milan defender was caught the wrong side of the forward and contact – albeit minimal – was made.
Of course the Rossoneri could feel aggrieved at the decision by Swedish referee Joans Eriksson. And of course Wenger said later he didn’t see the penalty incident.
It was a harsh decision, but Arsenal fans could feel equally angry at the one given at a tumultuous Anfield in the dying minutes of the match against Liverpool in the quarter finals of the Champions League in April 2008.
What was certain was that the match was not going to go to extra-time, although as the official blew for half-time essentially nothing had changed for Milan – they needed to score three goals at the Emirates to progress.
The second half saw renewed belief from the Serie A giants, roared on by the loud support, now behind the goal they were attacking.
Suso shot narrowly wide eight minutes into the second half before Cutrone volleyed acrobatically wide six minutes later.
Milan stepped up the tempo and Arsenal were being stretched.
Could Wenger’s men hold on and progress to the last eight, where they would join such luminaries as Marseille, Lazio, Leipzig and Sporting Lisbon? Not to mention CSKA Moscow.
We were to find out.
With 18 minutes to go Xhaka, who has been the subject of intense scrutiny this season fired a low if speculative shot at Donnarumma. Yet the highly-rated teenager – who if truth be told had not impressed over both legs – could only parry the ball before it squeezed into the net.
There was as much relief as joy as Arsenal fans knew they would be going through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
And as the consistently impressive Milan fans – who gave their heroes unstinting backing over the course of 180 minutes – sung lustily in defiance of the result they knew was coming Welbeck nodded home his second of the evening to make the score a comprehensive 3-1.
Arsenal may be struggling to restore past glories in the Premier League – but for a club with only two European wins in its entire history – none of the remaining teams in the tournament will want to be drawn against the North Londoners.
Even if in the current climate, not many from London will want to visit Moscow...