It is difficult to accurately assess the Arsenal performance in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie against A.C. Milan. The game ended in a 3-1 victory for the Gunners, which secured their advancement to the quarterfinals of the Europa League through a 5-1 aggregate against the Italian giants. However, it’s Arsenal, after all, so the road may have been a little bumpier than many fans might have liked. Ultimately, however, Arsenal got the job done by being the better side over the two legs.
Arsenal Get the Job Done
For about 50 minutes of the game – the first 30 and the final 20 – Arsenal executed their gameplan to near perfection. They played like a team with a two-goal cushion, defending safely and playing patiently in attack. Even losing Laurent Koscielny in the 10th minute to an apparent back injury did not hamper the back four, as Calum Chambers stepped up and filled in admirably. However, a very well-struck 35th minute shot by Hakan Çalhanoğlu dipped and dove past David Ospina and the Rossoneri suddenly had hope in a game that had, to that point, been controlled by the Gunners.
The remainder of the first half was a pretty open affair, but it took only three minutes for Arsenal to restore order, thanks to a very dodgy penalty call in Arsenal’s favour. Danny Welbeck seemed to go down easily in the box after Ricardo Rodriguez appeared to pull out of his challenge. The touchline official saw things differently, however, and Welbeck sent Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma the wrong way to equalise.
The Second Half
The second half began much like the first half ended. Milan pressed pretty high up the pitch and the Gunners’ back line went through a spell of sloppy passing that led to several half chances for the visitors. However, after soaking up pressure for the first 20 minutes of the half, Arsenal began to reassert themselves. When they got their second goal though, it once again felt somewhat undeserved.
The goal came credit of an outside-the-box shot from Granit Xhaka – something of a rarity – and an absolute howler from Donnarumma. To the cries of, “Shoooooooooot” from the Arsenal faithful, Xhaka unleashed a hard and low shot that Donnarumma managed to get both hands to. However, his parry bounced nearly straight up, and the ball drifted into the goal, and the tie was basically over.
After the Xhaka goal, the wind seemed to go completely out of Milan’s sails, and they hardly threatened the rest of the game. Danny Welbeck added a second in the 86th minute, finishing off the messy end of an otherwise neat and tidy counterattack, and the game ended with a convincing Arsenal victory. Job done.
Over the two legs, the Gunners were clearly the better side and deserved to go through. However, it is very easy to envision a scenario, unlikely and unlucky, where Milan could have made this extremely difficult. They started both legs very well, and Arsenal had to calm the storm. They did so more quickly this time around than they did at the San Siro last week. A more ruthless finishing team might have made Arsenal pay for their lapses, and fans will know that their North London heroes rarely get the benefit of a soft penalty.
Fans will be optimistic about the team’s recent play, but improvement is necessary to survive in the later rounds. The draw for the quarterfinal round takes place Friday, 16 March from 12pm GMT/1pm CET. The other quarterfinalists are: Atlético Madrid, CSKA Moskva, Lazio, RB Leipzig, Marseille, Salzburg, and Sporting CP.