Arsenal halt their four-match losing skid with a solid performance away at AC Milan, who in turn had their 14-game unbeaten streak undone.
North London club Arsenal made serious headway in the Europa League after emerging as 2-0 victors against AC Milan at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened his account for the Gunners while Aaron Ramsey doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time. The two away goals will prove crucial for Arsene Wenger and his side as they entertain the Rossoneri next week at the Emirates for the return leg.
On the other hand, AC Milan suffer their first defeat under manager Gennaro Gattuso. Genuine optimism abounded the Rossoneri prior to the match against the North London club. Under the former midfielder, Milan went 13 games unbeaten, with their six last matches ending in victories. While Gattuso remarkably improved the club, Arsenal brutally exposed Milan’s deficiencies to take a major step into the last eight of the Europa League. The next section discusses three major arguments regarding the match.
AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal FT:
Pass accuracy: 82%-83%
Chances created: 9-5
A positive game from Arsenal sees Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey give them a 2 goal lead after the first leg. pic.twitter.com/YhMj0LJYAU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 8, 2018
The Gunners exhibit urgency in attack
Coming into the match on the back of a four-game losing run, the Gunners responded very well. The Gunners started on the ascendancy and looked positive going forward. Especially in the first half, every player seemed to make intelligent runs and constantly found themselves spaces along the channels.
Mkhitaryan looked especially lively, prancing about down the left-hand side before breaking the deadlock. The Armenian needed a wicked deflection to beat Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma but his initiative from the start ensured it was a deserved one. The second goal came from a trademark forward run from Ramsey. The Welsh international rounded the keeper and finished neatly after Mesut Ozil picked him out expertly with a slide-rule pass.
— ArsenalGoals (@ArsenalGoaIs) March 8, 2018
While the Arsenal boss opted for his usual 4-2-3-1, the interesting bit came in midfield as Jack Wilshere occupied the No10 role. The England midfielder repaid the faith shown to him by Wenger and thrived in an advanced position. He combined well with Ozil who started on the right but regularly ventured centrally in attack.
Interestingly, when in his usual box-to-box position, Wilshere had a tendency to play sideways despite his renowned ability to drive the ball forward. As Arsene Wenger pushed him forward, Wilshere turned his focus to getting Mkhitaryan and Danny Welbeck into promising spaces upfront. But even when playing in an advanced role, the combative midfielder still tracked back, taking us to the next point.
Disciplined defensive showing from Arsenal
Especially after taking the lead, the Gunners displayed defensive solidity. They kept their lines compact and pressed in the right areas and situations. Ramsey and Granit Xhaka did a stellar job in providing cover for the Arsenal backfour. The two central midfielders put in a shift in the San Siro without the ball, tracking back as soon as they lose the ball in the central axis.
The Gunners rearguard also rose to the occasion. Centrehalf Laurent Koscielny marshalled his backline very well and also showed his defensive nous on an individual scale. His centreback partner Skhodran Mustafi recovered from an early wobble to play an important role in the rear. Their improved defending against set pieces also served the Gunners well.
Wenger also deserved credit for his tactical change with ten minutes to go. The Arsenal boss decided to protect the Gunners’ two-goal advantage and introduced the centreback Rob Holding for Ozil. This absolutely beefed up Arsenal’s midfield as the 22-year-old defender slotted alongside Xhaka and Ramsey.
Wenger: "When you are low in confidence it’s difficult to attack well and I give credit to the team for that. They didn’t just try to defend well, they had the courage to play as well." pic.twitter.com/oCyCy6Iny1
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) March 9, 2018
But the most interesting part came with five minutes to go as Wenger switched into a backfive. He withdrew Calum Chambers, playing at rightback in this match, for Mohammed Elneny. The Egyptian international took over from Chambers at rightback while Holding slotted into his usual centreback position.
Apart from the added protection, they also used the extra personnel at the back to hold on to the ball much longer in the closing stages. Most crucially though, the tactical switch ensured the Gunners held on to their two-goal advantage without reply from Milan, bringing us to the next point
AC Milan lacked creativity and finishing
The AC Milan attack never seemed to fully click into gear. There was a distinct lack of creativity in the Milan midfield. Hakan Calhanoglu did not bring out the flair he was supposed to offer at Milan and additionally, his specialty lies at set pieces. Suso displayed flashes of attacking intent from the right but together, Milan’s wave after wave of attacks broke down. This lay in part due to Arsenal’s defence, but also due to an inherent absence of cohesion in attack. Patrick Cutrone received little opportunities upfront.
Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso isn't ready to throw in the towel, despite a 2-0 home loss to Arsenal in leg one pic.twitter.com/hT1CFnuR07
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) March 9, 2018
Milan became more assertive in the second half to give Arsenal something to think about. They barged into dangerous areas in the Arsenal half but this time, they displayed a lack of ruthless finishing. Giacomo Bonaventura skied a lot of his efforts and in one occasion, Suso sliced a strike from an acute angle for a throw-in. Gattuso Introduced three strikers in a last-ditch attempt to bolster their attack but in hindsight, the manoeuvre magnified the serious deficiency in service from the Milan midfield.