Danny Welbeck: Turning the Corner?

Danny Welbeck is among the tougher Arsenal players to value. He has every physical intangible that a top-flight striker could ask for: speed, quickness, strength, and height, but since coming to Arsenal, Welbeck’s biggest problem has been staying fit. Each year he’s had with the club has been marred by injuries. Just as he seems ready to turn the corner and become a consistent goal threat, he finds himself on the training table, sidelined for weeks. His fitness is also closely linked to his shaky confidence in front of goal; months off the pitch and inconsistent appearances can ruin any striker’s confidence.

Welbeck showed serious promise in August and September, tallying three goals in the first four games of the Premier League season, when once again, the injury bug came calling. First, with a hip problem, then closely followed by a groin pull, both forcing him to miss two months of action in October and November. His return from injury, again, was marked with inconsistency, lack of urgency, and poor finishing. Two goals. Over 24 appearances in all competitions from late November until early March, two goals were all that “Welbeast” could manage.

With the added competition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player of higher class and similar physical intangibles, it looked as if Welbeck’s role at Arsenal would be limited even further. However, an injury to Lacazette, offered an opportunity to grab playing time in Europe as Arsenal’s only legitimate striking option.  Danny came through for Arsenal at home against AC Milan, when he added two key goals to put the Gunners past the (former) Italian giants and into the Europa League Quarter Finals. Since that performance he’s added three more goals, including a pivotal strike against CSKA Moscow that swung the momentum back towards Arsenal and helped cement their place in the Semi Final.

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So, now what? Who really is Danny Welbeck? Is he a key player for Arsenal? Will he finally find consistency and fitness?

Who can say one way or another for certain, and although we may not have a reliable answer about Welbeck’s future form or even his status with the club, what we have seen is that he is a player capable of taking his chance. He’s fought alongside two world class strikers and delivered in the clutch when his club needed him most. Injuries, form and playtime can’t be predicted, but Welbeck’s positivity off the bench and as a recent First XI player is a sign of good things to come.

Even through added competition, injuries and a difficult year for the club as a whole, Welbeck has contributed 11 goals in all competitions and has shown that he can be a relied-on squad player in the years that follow. Working alongside the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette may, at times, limit how often he sees the pitch, but should prove to elevate his play when opportunities arise. Recent matches should highlight the importance of working with classy strikers such as newly added Aubameyang.

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Regardless of injury history and inconsistency, Welbeck still possesses undeniable talent and potential. He will never be the “main man” at Arsenal, but he certainly can become a key man of the bench and a fill-in starter off the bench in smaller competitions. For his and Arsenal’s sake, hopefully “Welbeast” can remain fit and solidify himself as a positive third striking option behind the dynamic duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Arsenal would be wise to keep him around. Perhaps his big break is right around the corner?

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-2 Southampton

Arsenal have added to their good form at the Emirates Stadium with a 3-2 victory over Southampton for the Premier League.

Goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Danny Welbeck launched the Gunners into the lead before half-time, having previously gone a goal down to Shane Long’s early strike.

The Saints equalised later on through Charlie Austin, but Welbeck again sought the final say, claiming the winner for Arsenal in the 82nd minute before both sides saw off the game with ten men.

Arsène Wenger called on a number of fresh faces to come into the XI, more notably that of Reiss Nelson’s, as Mesut Özil and co. were rested ahead of next week’s clash versus CSKA Moscow.

The Saints went in search of an early goal, as Dusan Tadic found James Ward-Prowse in support before the Englishman’s shot past Čech was cleared by Héctor Bellerín in the 7th minute.

Southampton followed up to take the lead ten minutes later, as Long ghosted ahead of Shkodran Mustafi at the near-post to divert Cedric Soares’ cross into the back of the net.

Arsenal’s reply came in the 28th minute via Aubameyang’s deft touch past Alex McCarthy, scoring courtesy of Welbeck’s neat flick-on.

With Welbeck involved again, the English forward was able to power a deflected shot in after 38 minutes of play, as the Gunners took a 2-1 lead into half-time.

A good start to the second period saw Arsenal threaten to add to their lead, with both Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi going close with strikes from range.

Wenger’s men then required another goal-line intervention, with Mohamed Elneny denying Wesley Hoedt’s header in the 56th minute before Long could test Čech five minutes later, again with his head.

The goal eventually came for the visitors in the 73rd minute, as Cedric continued to cause the problems down the right flank before feeding Charlie Austin for a tap-in.

A golden opportunity to put Arsenal back in front fell Welbeck’s way in the 78th minute, courtesy of an out-stretched cut-back from Jack Wilshere, but the ex-Manchester United man was unable to find the appropriate contact when shinning the ball over from close range.

Welbeck would redeem himself, however, following Iwobi’s floated cross, with the Arsenal forward popping up at the back-post to nod home in the 82nd minute.

The game fizzled with a red card each, collected by Elneny and Southampton’s Jack Stephens, as the North Londoners claimed all-three points with a 3-2 win at home.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Calum Chambers (6), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Mohamed Elneny (6), Granit Xhaka (6) – Reiss Nelson (6), Alex Iwobi (8), Danny Welbeck (7) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Jack Wilshere (6), Rob Holding (6), Alexandre Lacazette (6)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 4-1 CSKA Moscow

Arsenal have moved a step closer to booking their spot in the semi-finals of the Europa League with a 4-1 victory at home in their first leg against CSKA Moscow.

A first-half blitz saw the Gunners silence CSKA’s early away goal, as two goals apiece from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette powered the hosts to a 4-1 lead.

The pair came close to adding to the scoreline in the second-half before Arsène Wenger’s men eventually settled for the four goals acquired in the first period, setting up a far more relaxed challenge for the return leg.

Arsenal welcomed back the likes of Lacazette, Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka for the encounter against the Russians, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan also finding his way back into the XI after being rested at the weekend.

It was through the Armenian that the Gunners came close to pulling themselves ahead in the tie early on, with the ex-Manchester United man popping up inside the box before thrashing a left-footed shot into the side-netting in the 4th minute.

Arsenal would get their early goal, this one through Ramsey, as Héctor Bellerín found the Welshman alone inside the box prior to the latter’s first-time finish in the 9th minute.

CSKA replied via Aleksandr Golovin’s free-kick, aimed at the top-right corner and beating Petr Čech in the 15th minute to level the game.

From one dead-ball specialist to another, the north Londoners were given an avenue back in front of the game, as Mesut Özil was brought down inside the box to offer Lacazette the chance to convert from the penalty spot, with the Frenchman making no mistake.

Özil found himself in the thick of things once more in the 27th minute, picking out Ramsey’s run into the box before the midfielder could adjust his positioning to beat Igor Akinfeev with a sublime flick over the goalkeeper’s head, as Arsenal raced through to a 3-1 lead.

Lacazette followed suit by bagging himself a brace, pouncing onto Özil’s cut-back prior to finishing on his left foot in the 34th minute, as Arsenal cruised into the interval with the score amplified to 4-1.

Ramsey neared his hat-trick on two separate occasions coming into the second period, with the Gunners reasserting their dominance on proceedings following the half-time break.

In the 67th minute, it was Lacazette’s turn, as Özil’s pass through to Iwobi saw the Nigerian opt to squeeze a pass to the striker rather than shoot, as the former Olympique Lyonnais star struggled against the angle when missing the target from close range.

The trend continued, with Ramsey going close again when curling a strike onto the outside of Akinfeev’s post in the 77th minute.

Four goals would do Arsenal nicely, however, ahead of next Thursday’s second leg tie at the VEB Stadium.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (6) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (7) – Aaron Ramsey (9), Granit Xhaka (6) – Mesut Özil (9), Jack Wilshere (7), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: Alex Iwobi (6), Mohamed Elneny (-), Danny Welbeck (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-0 Stoke City

A Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace helped Arsenal on to a 3-0 victory over Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners recouped its five-point-advantage over 7th-placed Burnley.

The North Londoners needed to wait until the second period to find the back of the net, with Aubameyang opening his account for the day from the penalty spot in the 75th minute.

Arsenal’s record signing followed up with a second goal late on before Alexandre Lacazette’s third secured a comfortable-looking victory.

Following a brief international break, the Gunners returned to Premier League action with the likes of Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck squeezing into the XI, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan sat out with Lacazette on the substitute’s bench.

It was Stoke who started brightest, however, as Xherdan Shaqiri fired wide of David Ospina’s goal with a curling effort early on.

In a game of few chances, Aaron Ramsey went closest for Arsenal when lifting a volley over the keeper in the 23rd minute, with only the top of the crossbar denying the Welshman prior to a goalless half.

Arsenal garnered a few more half-chances towards the hour-mark, but neither Welbeck, nor Nacho Monreal and Mohamed Elneny could find the avenue past Jack Butland.

Chances at either end saw Shaqiri stun the numbers with a deep corner onto the post, with Aubameyang following up to pull a save out of Butland when being placed through on goal by Özil in the 70th minute.

Arsenal’s chance to break the deadlock came via the penalty spot, with Aubameyang again being elected to seize the opportunity before opening the scoring in the 75th minute.

The ex-Borussia Dortmund man pounced on a flick-on to grab his second in the 86th minute, volleying past Butland, as Arsenal proceeded with their search for a third, with Lacazette adding the finishing touches to a 3-0 victory from the 12-yard-mark in the 89th minute.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Calum Chambers (6), Nacho Monreal (6) – Mohamed Elneny (6), Aaron Ramsey (8) – Mesut Özil (7), Jack Wilshere (7), Danny Welbeck (6) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Alexandre Lacazette (6), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (-), Granit Xhaka (-)

Should Arsenal Pay Wilshere?

Things have changed at Arsenal Football Club. There is no sense in denying it. Some may be so bold to say that things have changed for the better. I wouldn’t blame people for trying to see the glass half full. I mean, hey, we’ve got Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Ozil has signed a new contract. These are good things!

Yes, they are all good in a vacuum. If you don’t take the performance of the team into account then, things are looking up in the personnel department at the very least. However, we don’t live in a world where performance doesn’t matter. This isn’t FIFA Ultimate Team, where we are just trying to collect as many rare cards as we possibly can. The performances will eventually effect Arsenal’s ability to attract top players…or even keep them around. I could point to Alexis as an example, but I think an even greater (and more upsetting) case to look at is the Jack Wilshere contract dilemma. This is troubling for two reasons.

The first reason, is more of an emotional response. Jack has been at Arsenal since he was a child. He is Arsenal to his core, he literally bleeds red. He has been one of the few constants through multiple rough patches for Arsenal fans. He emerged in the first team just before the mass exodus that saw the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy, etc… leave the club. He was a beacon of hope while the rest were abandoning ship.

As Arsenal fans, we all were able to see him grow up at the club. From that night against Barcelona that goal against Norwich, Jack has made his mark here.

He has made himself a cult hero and I don’t know a single Arsenal fan that doesn’t want to see him stay. So, reason number one is purely sentimental…he’s ours and we want to see him thrive with that canon on his chest.

Reason number two is more…serious. This contract standoff looks horrible for the club. Last year, Wilshere was sent on loan to Bournemouth in order to get a run of games together without breaking something in his body. The arrival of Granit Xhaka paired with Wilshere’s injury problems left the Englishman on the outside looking in. It seemed as if Wenger was moving on from Wilshere. Then, to put an extra nail in the coffin, Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture that saw him miss the end of the 2016-17 campaign. It was widely reported that last summer, Wenger had told Wilshere if he found a new club…he was free to leave.

On the surface, this appeared to be growth on Arsenal’s part. As much as it hurt to be moving on from Jack, it was most certainly in the club’s interest to not pin their hopes on an injury prone midfielder who hadn’t fulfilled his potential. That being said…things have changed since last summer. Arsenal fans went into the season feeling mostly optimistic. The FA Cup victory over Chelsea was a huge morale boost and most were confident on the Ozil contract subject (rightly so). But, the reality of Arsenal’s situation smacked everyone in the face. Sanchez didn’t get the move he wanted and it left the team in limbo for the first half of the season, until he joined Manchester United and caused a mini-rebuild in January. Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup and were beaten in the League Cup final by Manchester City. Arsenal have essentially no chance at finishing in the top 4, and now need to rely on a Europa League trophy (without the help of the club’s record signing due to cup tie complications) in order to gain entry into next season’s Champions League.

Although this hasn’t been a great season for Arsenal, it has been one of Wilshere’s best seasons in recent memory. He has avoided long-term injury and shown some flashes of true greatness throughout this rough patch. The real problem with Wilshere refusing to sign a new deal, is that it highlights Arsenal’s steep decline. Take away Jack’s name, status, history, etc…and what we have is a player who was written off by the club and is now refusing to sign. It’s not because he can’t get minutes at Arsenal, he has proven himself to be valuable this year. He now thinks that he may be able to have a better chance at winning somewhere else. Someone that Wenger shipped to Bournemouth now has no faith in Arsenal’s ability to succeed. Some may point to the fact that Wilshere is being offered less money, which is true, but this is another mistake by the club…not Wilshere misjudging his own worth. To offer Wilshere a pay cut after the season he has been having is an insult. Fans may debate the specific number that they think Wilshere is worth, but it certainly should not be lower than what he is making now.

The tables have turned on the club and the way they are handling this has been sub-par. If Arsenal fail to secure Wilshere signature, it does not bode well for negotiations with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who is only on the books until next summer. Arsenal should suck it up and pay Wilshere. If this season ends with Europa League disappointment and Wilshere’s exit, it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It will leave the midfield with a man down and an expiring contract in Aaron Ramsey, and without Champions League it will make it that much more difficult to find a replacement for a man that we shouldn’t let go of in the first place.

 

How Arsene Wenger should manage Arsenal’s remaining 8 Premier League games

Arsenal’s Premier League season is, for all intents and purposes, over. After five league losses since the turn of the year, the Gunners find themselves stranded behind the pack in sixth place instead of battling it out among the Premier League elite for a spot in the top four. The table tells the story: 33 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham, Arsenal have virtually nothing to play for in their remaining eight league matches. It is a peculiar, if not disheartening situation.

Arsene Wenger’s hopes of salvaging something from the worst season of his 21-year tenure now lie in the Europa League, a competition that offers both a chance to win his first European trophy and a route into next season’s Champions League. Still, the Frenchman must manage his squad for eight essentially meaningless domestic games, a task which presents both risk and opportunity. Here are some factors Wenger should consider as he leads his side through the ‘dead rubbers’ that make up the rest of the Premier League season.

 

Keep Key Europa League Players Fresh

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Laurent Koscielny’s fitness will be decisive in Arsenal’s Europa League run

It should serve as a wakeup call that the Europa League has, at this point, become more important to Arsenal than the Premier League. The club have no time to scoff at the stature of the competition, however, as it represents their best shot to get back into Europe’s elite tournament.

The Gunners are now in the quarterfinals after beating a strong AC Milan side 5–1 on aggregate—an outcome that few expected considering the way Arsenal had been playing. The 2-0 win at the San Siro was one of Arsenal’s strongest performances of the season, with the back four’s uncharacteristically resolute defending giving the entire team a platform to play with freedom and confidence.

Arsene Wenger will use that performance as a template for next month’s quarterfinal tie against CSKA Moscow. As Arsenal’s season rests on beating the Russian outfit over two legs, Wenger should keep key players fresh by limiting their minutes in the league. The fixture sandwiched between the two legs—Southampton at home—should see some rotation, with the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, and perhaps even Hector Bellerin and Mesut Özil getting the day off.

 

Give the youngsters a chance

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Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock have both made their Arsenal debuts this season

One of the highlights of Arsenal’s dismal season has been the particularly exciting crop of young players breaking into the first team. Ainsley Maitland-Niles hasn’t looked out of place when slotting in at left-back—a position he’s not used to playing—while Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock have all impressed when given minutes in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

The low-pressure, dead rubber league games provide an ideal setting for Arsenal’s young talents to gain valuable first team minutes. As the Gunners tend to play their best football when the pressure is off, the youngsters will slot into a free-flowing, positive Arsenal side rather than a calamitous train wreck, ultimately aiding their development.

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One player in particular who fans would like to see more of is Reiss Nelson. Despite shining in the preseason tour of Asia last summer with his silky touches and mazy dribbles, the winger has played just 18 league minutes this season. With Alex Iwobi flattering to deceive at right-wing, it could be time to see what Nelson is truly capable of by giving him an extended run in the first team. What’s more, the 18-year-old’s contract expires next summer, and it would be a shame if the club’s brightest prospect in years was to leave because he wasn’t given a proper chance.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is another who would benefit from increased playing time in the Premier League. Impressing at left-back a handful of times this season with composure that belies his age and remarkable recovery speed, Maitland-Niles has deserved a chance to play in central midfield, his preferred position. Moving to the defense, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could slot in while Laurent Koscielny is rested, with both in need of minutes to regain confidence.

The opportunity is there for Arsenal’s next generation to be integrated into the first team. Of all people, Arsene Wenger should be the first to recognize it.

 

Don’t let the results slide

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Arsenal have lost 14 matches in all competitions this season

Although the rest of Arsenal’s Premier League season is technically pointless, the results will still influence the atmosphere around the club and the fan sentiment. While there may be no tangible consequences to defeat, a heavy loss at Old Trafford or a home upset to West Ham would add to the club’s malaise and bring more empty seats.

No man is more aware of that than Arsene Wenger, who in the past has described each and every defeat as “a scar on my heart.” The Frenchman will want to win his remaining games regardless of their importance as he looks to bring the feel-good factor back to the club. More importantly, Arsenal’s Premier League duties aren’t completely disconnected from their Europa League campaign: a series of losses could send them back into a negative spiral, while a run of form would build momentum that translates to Europe.

The Premier League season may be over, but Arsenal arguably have more to play for than ever. In a bid to end his worst-ever season on a high and potentially save his job, Arsene Wenger will have to manage his squad with care and canny between now and the end of May.

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

Should success in the Europa League allow Wenger to stay on next season?

What has seemed to be a lengthy call for Wenger to leave his long-tenured post as Arsenal manager, it would seem that this season the calls got even louder and had a bit more venom behind them. Fans for years have been sold on the euphoric dream that Arsenal would be competing with forget domestic clubs, would be competing with the European elites. Yet here we are again with the same tired rhetoric of falling so far behind first place that it has become laughable. But there is a last saving grace for Wenger and it seems as if he is viewing it that way. The Europa League offers the last bit of optimism as it offers the only chance to get back into the Champions League. With success in the competition a viable possibility, will this leave the door open for Wenger to retain his position as manager?

Now I’m going to preface my statement by saying that I’m not sure that all the fans will agree with me, but I am most definitely resigned to the fact that any talk of winning the league whether it’s before or during the season is ultimately a farce. The best that the team can currently hope for is finishing in the top four and maybe winning one of the domestic cups. So with that being said, you would think that my expectations for the team would be low right? Wrong! There are certain levels that I expect the team to perform at and to say some of the performances this season have been embarrassing would be a drastic understatement.

 

Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal

Arsenal have been off the pace for the majority of the season

 

There are a number of games that immediately spring to mind when deciding what Arsenal’s most egregious game of the season was, and there lies the problem. It’s infuriating seeing the amount of talent that currently resides on the team and then seeing tepid performances that are doled out on a far too frequent basis. Far too many players are looking for others to take the game over rather than taking the initiative and grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns.

So during the middle of the season, the calls for Wenger to step down from his role were more than justified. With the team coming out of the tunnel already looking defeated, and their performance on the field showing it, it was more than fair for the fans to be in uproar considering the amounts they are asked to pay to watch such performances. But for all the complaining and hooting and hollering from the fans, one thing that we know for a complete and utter fact is that Wenger is arguably the most stubborn manager in the league and increased pressure won’t force him out of the club.

 

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Wenger has come under immense pressure this season to leave his post

 

With the top four all but unattainable this season, what once was a Europa League gauntlet has been whittled down significantly to a much more viable task. With Dortmund and Napoli dumped out in the earlier rounds, the one team that should realistically (And I use that term very loosely) cause Arsenal any problems is Atletico Madrid. The stark contrast in performances between the Europa League and the Premier League will infuriate Arsenal fans even more because it reveals that the team can perform on that level, but finding that level of consistency seems to be the problem.

Winning the competition and ending Wenger’s barren ran in Europe would provide the perfect platform for him to ride off happily into the sunset. But, knowing the man like we have come to know, the more realistic option would be him asking for a further contract extension.

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-1 A.C. Milan

Arsenal have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, following a 3-1 win against A.C. Milan in the second leg of their Last 16 tie.

A first-half penalty from Danny Welbeck and Granit Xhaka’s strike in the second-half topped the Gunners’ aggregate lead up to 4-1, after seeing Hakan Çalhanoglu open the scoring at the Emirates Stadium.

Welbeck’s second and Arsenal’s third late on made it 5-1 on aggregate, with victory for the North Londoners seeing them progress through to their first European quarter-final since 2010.

On the night, Arsenal were able to welcome back a string of heavyweight names in defence, but one of the Gunners’ key cast members would soon find himself out of action, as Calum Chambers replaced the injured Laurent Koscielny early on.

In spite of the setback, it was Arsène Wenger’s men who enjoyed their fair share of possession at the game’s infancy, as Welbeck tested Gianluigi Donnarumma from the left in the 25th minute.

Milan would soon ask their own questions, however, as Çalhanoglu took his cue to fire at goal from range and reward his club with a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute, beating David Ospina with the swerve of his strike.

No more than two minutes later, Arsenal readied themselves to cancel the Turkey international’s strike out, as Welbeck earned his side a penalty following Ricardo Rodriguez’s innocent challenge.

The ex-Manchester United forward elected himself to step up to the spot, sending Donnarumma the wrong way to make it 1-1 before half-time.

The Gunners were out to amplify their two-goal advantage on aggregate come the second period, as they resumed with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s strike from the left, aimed at the near-post, to which Donnarumma responded with a save in the 50th minute.

Both sides exchanged opportunities from the edge of the box before the hour-mark, as Aaron Ramsey followed up Suso’s effort wide at one end with a shot over Milan’s goal from Mesut Özil’s lay-off.

Patrick Cutrone neared a second for the ‘Rossoneri’ with an acrobatic volley deep inside Arsenal’s area, but the young striker would also be unable to direct his effort goalwards in the 60th minute.

Nikola Kalinic then came close to making an instant impact off the bench in the 68th minute, courtesy of Leonardo Bonucci’s searching run and cross prior the Croatian target-man’s header into Ospina’s grasp.

Xhaka went on to make the Italians pay just three minutes later, taking on the help of a Donnarumma mistake to power Arsenal to a  4-1 lead on aggregate.

Milan kept chasing a late miracle but Welbeck then extinguished all lingering hopes with a header into an open net in the 86th minute, as Arsenal cruised past the Serie A outfit with a 3-1 victory.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (7) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (5), Nacho Monreal (6) – Aaron Ramsey (7), Granit Xhaka (8) – Mesut Özil (7), Jack Wilshere (7), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7) – Danny Welbeck (7)

Subs: Calum Chambers (6), Mohamed Elneny (6), Sead Kolasinac (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-0 Watford

Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League after defeating Watford 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium, this afternoon.

The Gunners’ evening commenced with Mustafi picking up Arsenal’s 1,000th Premier League goal, as the hosts took a 1-0 lead into half-time.

Second-half strikes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rounded off the score, with Petr Čech’s first penalty save for the North London outfit, as well as his 200th clean sheet, also decorating Arsenal’s display.

In Laurent Koscielny’s absence, Arsène Wenger called on Rob Holding to partner Mustafi at the heart of defence, meanwhile the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi also found their way into the starting line-up.

Mustafi was able to provide the start Arsenal craved for in the 8th minute, heading Mesut Özil’s free-kick back across goal from inside the box to put his team a goal up.

The Gunners eyed an early second, unlocked by Elneny’s pass through to Sead Kolasinac on the left-hand side of the byline, but the latter would end up over-hitting his cross somewhat for the lurking Aubameyang at the back-post.

Watford replied with a goal-bound Richarlison free-kick in 25th minute, with Roberto Pereyra the first to react to the rebound before letting Arsenal off the hook when slicing his attempt over.

No less than a minute later, the hosts were up at the other end through neat combinations, as Özil found himself one-on-one before a trailing Orestis Karnezis leg did just enough to stop the German from scoring deep inside the box.

The Hornets saved their best football for the final period of the first-half, but little reward enabled Arsenal to hold on to their 1-0 lead through to the break.

Watford positivity resumed in the second period, but Arsenal promised to undo the visitors’ appetite with a second, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan offered Aubameyang the chance to round the goalkeeper and make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.

Javi Gracia’s side could’ve pulled a goal back as soon as the 62nd minute via Troy Deeney’s spot-kick, but Petr Čech’s penalty save – a first in Arsenal colours – kept the Vicarage Road outfit out.

The same privilege from the 12-yard-mark wouldn’t be handed to the Gunners just a few minutes later, as Adrian Mariappa’s late tackle on Mkhitaryan went unnoticed.

In the 76th minute, Aubameyang returned Mkhitaryan the favour after the latter managed to squeeze a shot under Karnezis for his first league goal at the Emirates, as Arsenal took a 3-0 lead.

Danny Welbeck looked to add a fourth before time was up, but the Gunners would settle for three in their first string of back-to-back wins since January.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (6), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Mohamed Elneny (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Mesut Özil (7), Alex Iwobi (6) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Calum Chambers (-), Jack Wilshere (-)

MATCH REPORT: A.C. Milan 0-2 Arsenal

Arsenal will take a 2-0 lead back to England with them after defeating A.C. Milan away from home in the Europa League, ahead of the second leg at the Emirates, next Thursday.

Despite recent struggles away from home, the North Londoners were able to overcome Milan, undefeated in their last 13 outings, with a couple of first-half goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey.

With minimal changes being made from the team that lost 2-1 to Brighton & Hove Albion at the weekend, Arsène Wenger was able to count on the return of Ramsey from injury, as Jack Wilshere kept his place at the expense of Alex Iwobi to play alongside the Welshman and Granit Xhaka.

The game fired up with a shot apiece for the two sides, as both Mkhitaryan and Patrick Cutrone found the side-netting with danger within the opening ten minutes.

Arsenal maintained the buzz and were able to make Milan pay in the 14th minute, as Mkhitaryan was afforded the chance to cut in from the right before overcoming Gianluigi Donnarumma with a deflected shot, placing the Gunners in front.

A disciplined display enabled Arsenal to hold on for much of the first half, whereas there’d be a couple of chances for both Chambers and Mkhitaryan to amplify the score, with the latter going closest when clipping the top of the bar in the 45th minute.

Wenger’s men remained sharp on the break, however, as Mesut Özil picked out Ramsey before the midfielder could round the keeper and make it 2-0 on the brink of half time.

The Premier League outfit may have had even more reasons to celebrate out of the blocks in the second half, as Danny Welbeck closed in on goal before Donnarumma’s intervention almost backfired into his own net off the striker’s block.

It was all hands to the pump for Arsenal from then on, as they bid to keep their two-goal advantage alive in the wake of Milan’s response.

The likes of Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura sent their warnings ahead of the final ten minutes of the game, with the Gunners later requiring an alert David Ospina to prevent Nikola Kalinic from latching onto a ball through on goal.

Arsenal wouldn’t have to face much more, however, as they held on to confirm a 2-0 victory.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Calum Chambers (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Laurent Koscielny (7), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Granit Xhaka (6), Aaron Ramsey (7) – Mesut Özil (7), Jack Wilshere (8), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7) – Danny Welbeck (6)

Subs: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (5), Rob Holding (-), Mohamed Elneny (-)