Gattuso fumes as Welbeck penalty helps Arsenal through
Arsene Wenger has finally put an end to that unfortunate seven-year sequence of exiting Europe at the round-of-16 stage, the only downside being that this time Arsenal are in the quarter-finals of the wrong competition.
They live to fight another day in the Europa League despite falling behind to AC Milan, and the Emirates Stadium will see European football beyond March for the first time since they last reached the quarter-final of the Champions League in 2010.
Sam Wallace 17 March 2018
That year they lost to Barcelona, holding the mighty Catalan club to a 2-2 draw at home and since then it has been a case of ever dwindling returns for Arsenal and their beaten opponents AC Milan.
The team managed by Gennaro Gattuso, an irrepressible figure of emotion and fury on the touchline, took the lead through a wonderful goal from Hakan Calhanoglu and were then dealt a most grievous injustice when Danny Welbeck executed a blatant dive to win a penalty.
There was nothing cunning or subtle about it, just an act of deception compounded by the incompetence of the Swedish officials in falling for it and from the penalty spot the Englishman dispatched the equaliser.
Welbeck is back in the England squad and ended this game with two goals but one wonders what he was thinking with that tumble in the first half.
For Wenger, victory represents some breathing space as his team go into the international break having arrested that run of four straight defeats, including the League Cup final, with a run of three victories including two over AC Milan.
They are two rounds from a place in the final in Lyon in May when the prize will be that Champions League qualifying berth, although they will hope to avoid the in-form Atletico Madrid.
It was a performance that only really came alive when Calhanoglu scored after 35 minutes which prompted Arsenal to squeeze up and at last apply some pressure.
They were the better side but it took a dreadful error from the young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to push Granit Xhaka’s hopeful second-half shot from distance into his own net and give the home side a comfortable margin of victory.
There was an ovation for Mesut Ozil when he departed in the second half having had one of his better games.
Jack Wilshere, also recalled to the England squad, looked sharp and played just behind Welbeck who was the lone striker. The worry for Wenger will be the injury to Laurent Koscielny.
On the whistle for half-time, Gattuso marched on to the pitch, at first to summon his unhappy players away from the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson and then, seeing as he was in the vicinity, to give a piece of his mind to the additional assistant referee Stefan Johannesson.
Outrage is Gattuso’s default setting, and on this occasion you could hardly disagree with him. His team had cut the deficit from the first leg at San Siro to a single goal before the Welbeck penalty had changed the complexion of the tie.
That equaliser stuck in Milan throats and no wonder given that they had scored a beautiful opener, Calhanoglu striking a fading right-footed shot across the badly-positioned David Ospina and into the far corner.
The Turkey international had seen the Arsenal goalkeeper had left too much space to his left and picked his spot despite Xhaka’s attempts to close it down.
The home side had invited the trouble, backing off Milan for no good reason and allowing the Italians more territory than they really deserved.
Wenger had lost Koscielny to injury early in the game, a jarring of his back when he landed from a leap to head the ball clear. Welbeck had gone through down the left channel and had his shot blocked by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Donnarumma had already stopped a shot from Aaron Ramsey when Jack Wilshere laid the ball off to Henrikh Mkhitaryan who slipped a pass through the defensive line for Welbeck to chase down to the goalline.
The Swiss left-back Ricardo Rodriguez checked his run behind Welbeck and there was no contact of any note before the Arsenal man first got clear and then collapsed.
Referee Eriksson hesitated and then seemed to take his lead from the additional assistant Johannesson behind the goal who was yards from the incident. He gave the penalty and Milan were enraged.
Penalty-taking duties fell to Welbeck – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not on the pitch – and he did a good job of sending Donnarumma the wrong way.
Xhaka’s shot in the 71st minute was a disaster for Donnarumma, the great goalkeeping hope of a great goalkeeping nation, who flapped a relatively harmless shot into his own goal.
Welbeck’s second came when Ramsey’s header from Wilshere’s cross was blocked and fell nicely for the striker to tidy up.
Wilshere was unfortunate not to score himself and in the closing stages, Milan opened up considerably. For the first time in a while in Europe’s knockout rounds, Arsenal just had too much quality for these opponents and they are five games from winning a competition they never wanted to play in the first place.
© Daily Telegraph, London