Arsenal looking to use win over Milan to give it some hope
MILAN — After four straight losses, Arsenal needed a performance full of grit, determination and spirit to give it some hope for the rest of the season.
They got it.
The London club managed to pull off a surprise by beating AC Milan 2-0 in the first leg of the last 16 in the Europa League, getting first-half goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey.
“We have to use this win, use it as sort of a target,” Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere said. “We’ve got to reach these levels every week. We’ve got another game Sunday and then next week in this competition, it’s not done yet.”
Arsenal lost to Swedish club Ostersunds in the Europa League last month but still advanced. The team then lost consecutive 3-0 matches to Manchester City, first in the League Cup final and then in the Premier League. Finally, the Gunners lost at Brighton 2-1, also in the Premier League.
The win over Milan is a huge boost, though.
“We haven’t won a game in a while and it’s not nice to keep losing games,” Wilshere said. “At the end of the day it’s our job, we’re passionate, we want to win games, win things, but when you haven’t won in a while it’s nice to win a game, especially a big game like this.”
Milan went into Thursday’s match perhaps affected by the funeral that day of former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who had grown up in the club’s youth sector. But it was Arsenal that dealt with the raucous passion of the packed San Siro.
Arsenal soaked up the early pressure from Milan and, despite some glaring gaps at the back at times, the players defended well and hit Milan on the counter.
“We started the game thinking we’re in for a real test here, and we have to be ready defensively, we have to be willing to work hard, to dig in, dig deep,” Wilshere said.
“When you start a game like that, with that attitude, we’ve got quality players who are always going to come through going forwards and create chances but we need that defensive shape and organization to give us a base and we had that tonight.”
Mkhitaryan, who has struggled since joining Arsenal from Manchester United in January, scored his first goal for the club and also hit the crossbar. Mesut Ozil was also back in form, setting up both goals.
Now it’s back to the league, where Arsenal is 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham and plays Watford on Sunday. Winning the Europa League may be the team’s only chance of getting back into the Champions League.
“If anyone tells you you haven’t got to prove anything to anyone they’re wrong,” Wilshere said. “You’re always trying to prove yourself to people and play well in the next game and we know we haven’t been good enough. We’re all aware of it.”