Arsenal have beaten AC Milan at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16 by 0-2 and will therefore enter the second leg at the Emirates with a significant advantage. But the outcome wasn’t the only different aspect of this game compared to several recent Gunners’ outings.
There were a few changes from the team that started the game against Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
David Ospina was in goal instead of Petr Cech. There’s no disputing the fact that the former Chelsea shot-stopper was once fantastic, but Ospina has now kept three clean sheets since Cech kept his last one. Though clean sheets depend on more than just the goalkeeper, it is quite an indicative piece of information. The Colombian was a little shaky with crosses at first but he grew into the game as it progressed. But to be fair, he had very little to deal with.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible to represent Arsenal in this competition and Alexandre Lacazette still out injured, Danny Welbeck was called upon to pose as the main attacking threat. There is definitely a reason why Welbeck is behind both Aubameyang and Lacazette in the pecking order. His finishing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, he has been known to pick a wrong option when on the ball, and the change in his physique, the increase in muscles that has been gradually happening since his arrival to the club seems to have cost him some of his once most potent weapon – pace. Nevertheless, he displayed an admirable work-rate at the Meazza. With his clever positioning and relatively good linkup play, he was able to put enough pressure on the Milan back line and enable Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey to shine.
Ramsey himself was another addition to the team since the league defeat at the weekend. Compared to young Alex Iwobi, the Welshman obviously brings all the elements of experience – composure, creativity, smart movement in between the opposition lines and sudden runs such as the one that allowed him to capitalize on Özil’s fantastic pass and score Arsenal’s second on the night.
It’s hard to imagine facing AC Milan would be an easier task than playing at Brighton, but it certainly seems that way for Arsenal. Gennaro Gattuso’s men themselves now looked like the Arsenal from few days earlier. Shaky at the back, irresponsible in possession, wasteful and bereft of any creativity in attack, they just couldn’t trouble the Gunners’ defence at all. At the other end, they left all kinds of openings for them exploit.
Both goals happened due to the serious lack of communication between those tasked with defending. The way Özil found Mkhitaryan in space inside the box was truly brilliant, but Gattuso will be asking his players how it was possible for the Armenian to sneak in there. The second goal was an assist no less brilliant from Özil, but Lucas Biglia, who was following Ramsey’s movements, made a step forward trying to spring an offside trap. To his dismay, nobody followed his lead and the trap failed while he suddenly found himself taken out of the equation at the same time.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was probably the standout performer for the Rossoneri with two fine saves, while Hakan Calhanoglu was the only one that seemed capable of creating anything at the other end. It was therefore rather surprising to see Gattuso replace the Turkish international after an hour.
In all fairness, against Brighton & Hove the Gunners weren’t exactly in a position to “manage” the game in its final stages. But this time they were, and they did it very well. Wenger’s decision to replace Özil with Rob Holding 10 minutes from time was definitely the right one, while Ramsey and Jack Wilshere made sure there were no late surprises by smartly keeping the ball and adding to the frustration of the home team. Arsenal scoring a third always looked more likely than Milan pulling one back.
It’s very easy to answer that – more of this game, and less of that one against Brighton. But it’s always easier said than done.
Arsenal can be backed at 4/1 to win the competition.