AFPPARIS (AFP-Jiji) — Under-fire Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was relieved after his side’s impressive 2-0 Europa League last-16, first-leg victory at AC Milan on Thursday, following a “nightmare” week.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan drove Arsenal into a 15th-minute lead with his first goal for the club, and a shellshocked Milan fell further behind before halftime as Aaron Ramsey waltzed through to score.
Wenger desperately needed a positive result after coming under pressure for a run of four straight defeats, and he got just that against a Milan side that saw a 13-match unbeaten run ended.
“It is an important win of course after we had a nightmare week,” the 68-year-old Frenchman told BT Sport afterward.
“I am happy with the spirit and response we gave. When you are knocked down like a boxer you don’t have time to react and you are only halfway up, but you have to respond.
“Your pride and desire to show quality has to come through in the game.”
Gennaro Gattuso’s seven-time European champions now have it all to do ahead of the second leg at the Emirates in seven days.
“Arsenal are in a very difficult period, but are a great team, but we made too many mistakes,” said Gattuso.
But Arsenal, 13 points adrift of the top four in the Premier League, will be confident of continuing its bid to return to the Champions League by winning Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time.
“Overall it is important to win, but it is not qualification. We have to finish the job at home,” Wenger added.
Arsenal started brightly at the San Siro but was lucky not to concede a penalty when Hakan Calhanoglou stayed on his feet despite appearing to have been fouled by onrushing Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina.
Just moments later Arsenal broke the deadlock, as Mesut Ozil fed Armenian Mkhitaryan, a January signing from Manchester United, to cut inside and fire in a shot that deflected past home keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma off Leonardo Bonucci.
The Gunners grew in confidence after that strike, with Donnarumma making two good saves late in the opening period to deny Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck, before Mkhitaryan hit the crossbar.
But the visitor did double its advantage before the interval, as Ramsey ran onto Ozil’s perfectly-weighted through ball and rounded Donnarumma to tap into an empty net.
Giacomo Bonaventura scooped a shot over in the second half when he should have done better, while Suso drilled a left-footed strike out for a throw-in.