Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey earned Arsenal a crucial 2-0 away win over AC Milan in the Europa League that ought, for now at least, to postpone the mounting pressure on the beleaguered Arsene Wenger.
After four straight defeats the Gunners roared back in a stadium where they had been hammered 4-0 on their last trip six years ago, showing a cutting edge in attack and resilience in defence that had been glaringly missing of late, earning two away goals that leave them firmly in control of this last-16 tie.
Vice-captain Laurent Koscielny had admitted ahead of kick-off that Arsenal were trapped in a “negative spiral” and for the first 15 minutes at the San Siro it seemed to be taking them deeper into the mire, with the Gunners nervy defence nearly turning a Hakan Calhanoglu cross into their own net.
The Turkish international could have had a penalty when Chambers switched off and he burst in behind. Most players would have tumbled over a diving David Ospina as they chased for a ball in the left channel of the penalty area but Calhanoglu stayed on his feet and with it Milan’s hopes of a penalty vanished.
His generosity was swiftly punished when Mesut Ozil found Mkhitaryan in space on the left after a hustling Ramsey had won the ball back in the Milan half. The Armenian drove into the area and saw his shot deflect off Leonardo Bonucci and over Gianluigi Donnarumma.
With that goal a weight seemed to be lifted off Arsene Wenger’s men and the menace returned to their attacking play. Sead Kolasinac was displaying quick feet, Ozil and Mkhitaryan were swapping flanks and even the struggling Danny Welbeck was getting in on the action, though his side-footed effort moments before the interval did not unduly test Donnarumma.
Similarly Mkhitaryan spurned a brilliant chance when his close range strike flicked off the bar. Coming moments after Bonucci had beaten a flailing Ospina to a corner only to see his header flash wide of an open goal there was a sense Wenger’s men might pay for their profligacy.
Yet they took firm control of the tie in first half stoppage time. A brilliant Ramsey flick kept Arsenal’s attack alive before Ozil provided the surgical through ball to the Welshman, who rolled the ball around the goalkeeper before tapping home.
The Gunners’ commanding lead turned what ought to have been a thrilling encounter in one of Europe’s footballing cathedrals into something of a damp squib for most of the second 45 minutes.
Gennaro Gattuso’s attacking substitutions brought the odd worry in the closing minutes but, Suso aside, Milan lacked the guile to craft a way through an Arsenal rearguard that looked worlds apart from the porous rearguard which allowed Brighton through at will on Sunday.
This Milan side may not have been a shadow of any of the teams that won seven European champions but no-one thought otherwise before kick-off. For Arsenal it didn’t really matter. The catastrophe has been, if not averted, then at least postponed.