Arsene Wenger finally saw Arsenal respond to their bad run of form as they beat AC Milan comfortably at San Siro – and the manager now wants to use the victory to turn the season around.
The Gunners travelled to Italy for the first leg of this Europa League last-16 tie on the back of four damaging defeats.
But, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring his first goal for the club in the 15th minute and Aaron Ramsey rounding Gianluigi Donnarumma to add a second on the stroke of half-time, Arsenal secured a 2-0
victory to take back to the Emirates Stadium next week.
Milan were poor, belying their improved form since Gennaro Gattuso took charge in November, but this was a performance that Arsenal needed.
Their hopes of returning to the Champions League all but rest on winning this competition, given they are 13 points adrift of the Premier League’s top four.
So it was a timely display to keep their quest for honours alive, with Wenger hopeful the result can lift some of the negativity affecting his players.
Asked if the win was just what Arsenal needed, he replied: “Yes, and what we wanted especially.
“At some stage, you need to respond and respond together with a good performance. That’s what we did tonight.
“When you have big disappointments you forget quickly that you have some qualities. In one week, you do not become a bad team or a bad player.
“Nothing is permanent in life. What is happening in life is just about how much you want to influence things. That’s what we try to do.”
Wenger did warn, however, that the tie is far from over, with Milan capable of turning things around in London.
“We have won again but we have not qualified,” he added.
“The result will lift the belief in the team again. When you lose three games in six days, it’s always very difficult. We want to keep our focus and finish the job next week. That’s what the target is.”
Milan entered the tie having not lost in 2018 and with a run of six successive clean sheets.
They were second-best for much of the game although, like Wenger, Gattuso insists his side are not finished.
“Never say never,” he said.
“We go there and we play. We showed that Milan can perform as a good team. We could have scored two goals. We will go there and we will play our match.
“To play in Europe is different to playing in Italy. We should not lose our confidence, we should go forward.”