Football: Gunners get up off the canvas

Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan making his presence felt against AC Milan. The Armenian's opener was his first goal for the Gunners.
Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan making his presence felt against AC Milan. The Armenian's opener was his first goal for the Gunners.PHOTO: REUTERS

Arsenal restore some much-needed pride in Milan ahead of clash with bogey side Watford

LONDON • Arsene Wenger said that Arsenal responded "like a boxer" in their Europa League win over AC Milan, and insisted that his team have quality ahead of tomorrow's Premier League home clash against Watford.

The Frenchman expressed his relief after the 2-0 round-of-16, first-leg success at the San Siro on Thursday, describing it as an important win after a "nightmare week".

"I am happy with the spirit and response we gave," said the 68-year-old after the win - in which Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened his account and Aaron Ramsey added a second - ended a run of four straight losses in all competitions.

"We weren't in a position to take risks, but we couldn't be too cautious as you lose fluidity. We defended with resilience till the end.

"When you are knocked down like a boxer, you don't have time to react but you have to respond. Your pride and desire to show quality has to come through in the game.

"It is an important win of course after we had a nightmare week."

The Gunners went to Milan after last week's consecutive league defeats, losing to leaders Manchester City - who also beat them in last month's League Cup final - and Brighton & Hove Albion.

Wenger's men are 13 points adrift of the Champions League places in the league and are pinning their hopes on winning the Europa League to qualify for Europe's elite club competition next season.

It could be the Arsenal manager's only salvation this campaign if he is to keep his job, amid strong calls for his sacking once again.

However, fans will still be hoping that the Gunners can improve on their poor league results of late - they also lost 0-1 to Tottenham prior to the City defeat - but it will not be easy against Watford.

Arsenal have lost their last two league games against Watford, who have also won two of their last three at the Emirates in all competitions.

"We will go there full of confidence because we got two wins," Watford's Adrian Mariappa said.

"We are going to try and get the points on the board again and the manager (Javi Garcia) won't demand anything less."

The Gunners, however, have not failed to score in any of their last 11 games against Watford in all competitions and Wenger is staying positive ahead of the challenge.

"When you have big disappointments, you forget quickly that you have some qualities," he said.

"In one week, you do not become a bad team or a bad player. Nothing is permanent in life."

REUTERS

ARSENAL V WATFORD

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Gunners get up off the canvas'. Print Edition | Subscribe