The obituary had been written, the flowers ordered and the mourners enthusiastically lined up to pay their respects to Arsenal’s corpse. Expectations were low for the North London sides Europa league encounter with AC Milan at the San Siro, due to an inexplicable dip in form.
Milan had not conceded in their last 6 games and had lost one of their last 20 European matches which on paper at least made a depleted Arsenal second favourites. Arsenal were going to be dispatched with ease and Wenger would once again be the focus of all the media attention as the press lined up to take shots at the Frenchman. But then something odd happened.
Arsenal turned up to make a match of it, swarming in attack and belligerent in defence, the Gunners showed spirit and character, where had it been for the last five matches?
Ozil and Mkhitaryan were heavily involved in this solid performance with the Armenian bagging the opener and later clipping the bar and the World Cup winning German assisting in both goals including Ramsey’s coolly taken effort that saw him round Donnarumma.
Wenger’s accelerated pulse must have made it possible for him to hear his own blood charging around his body but he need not have been overly concerned as Milan did an Arsenal and failed to show up. The opposition had chances but were generally poor and this win certainly puts them on the back foot for the second leg at the Emirates but the Emirates club can ill afford to think the job is done and will need to pull out all the stops against a wounded but dangerous animal next Thursday.
In fact, the only player from AC Milan who looked remotely energised and up to the task was Giacomo Bonaventura, who found himself in space only to fluff his lines or see the opportunity disappear like the funds in an offshore account. Yes, Milan were poor but Arsenal were better than usual and that was enough to close the game and give the Gooners the upper hand but as Wenger said: “it’s not qualification”.
No doubt the boss is aware of just how quickly luck comes and goes in football and the circumstances that lead to a fall from grace, that make up the painful transition from hero to zero. At times the Arsenal defence showed nerves and on occasion flapped like a washing line in a headwind but more importantly, they managed to keep the Rossoneri at bay.
Towards the end of the game, Wenger made sure of the result by throwing as many defenders into the fray as the rules permitted. Holding came on for the exceptional Ozil as Arsenal sought to plug the gaps and hold on to their sizeable advantage.
Wenger at times resembled a man who had been informed that his time was limited, he was feeling every misplaced and poorly executed pass. He looked every inch the Rasputin figure, who you may recall had been poisoned twice, shot, left for dead, only to be found alive and then promptly shot twice more. The manager, who had been under constant scrutiny for the past two weeks, was at the very least battered and bruised and his relief was as tangible as it was welcome.
Only Arsenal can throw this away. It’s been an inconsistent and difficult season so far and only a fool would say that it’s over for Milan. If Arsenal are caught flat-footed and revert to their stagnant, despondent and unimaginative alter ego, we could still see them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Football is ironic at times, Spurs are out of the Champions League despite giving a good account of themselves, whilst their north London neighbours who have been struggling to find any type of form are still in the Europa league with the chance of a quarter-final place. Say what you will but Football is never predictable and the outcome is never guaranteed.
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