Well this is odd. For the first time in a month, my selection of the Arsenal Man of the Match doesn’t have to be cheeky, generous to one who isn’t particularly deserving, or even given to a player on the losing side of theresult. Sorry Gunnersaurus, but you’ve had your time in the spotlight. Admittedly, a positive result makes my job easier, but in this case, The positive performances of multiple players have forced me to consider my selection carefully. Regardless who ultimately gets selected, it must be stressed that the Gunners’ performance in Milan was a total team effort, including a remarkable display of solidity in defence (remarkable for its rare occurrence this season) and some of the best attacking combination play we have seen in some time.
Honourble mentions must first be given to Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi who, despite the latter’s occasional gaffes, were miles better than they were in each of the previous 4 matches, and they set the tone for the stifling Arsenal defence. Granit Xhaka, the winner of my last Man of the Match for the distinction of being moderately less terrible than his teammates, was once again a physical presence in the center of the park, functioning as an effective shield for the back 4 while his more attack-minded midfield partners got forward to join the attack. Danny Welbeck was industrious as the lone striker, leading the Gunners’ occasional to great effect, despite his continued, near-comical flaws with the ball at his feet and in front of goal.
Leading the pack, however, is a group of players that played as if they were desperate to win despite their recent demoralising struggles. Mesut Ozil looked like his usual, classy self after all but disappearing in the previous 4 matches. He grabbed both of the Arsenal assists and was efficient, if unspectacular in his performance. Henrikh Mhkitaryan was energetic and tricky, the perfect foil to his languid, fellow creative force, Ozil. His goal was lucky to take such an advantageous deflection, but few would argue that he wasn’t deserving of the goal when it happened. Aaron Ramsey was simply brilliant on his goal, a classy fake that left Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on the turf and the Welshman with an open net. He was his typically active self, darting all over the pitch and stretching vertically into the spaces behind Welbeck as he provided a constant goal threat. He managed to complete 91% of his passes and intercept 5 Milan passes, but in the end, he was ultimately beaten to the top honours by a player who didn’t even last the full 90 minutes: Sead Kolasinac.
The Bosnian left back was as active and as quick as he had been at the beginning of the season when he rapidly endeared himself to the Emirates crowd with his hulking frame, aggressive defending and surprising ability going forward. While several players appeared to be back in good form after their recents struggles, Kolasinac looked nearly unplayable at times in the first half, and for parts of the second before he began to struggle with an injury. His statistics aren’t mind blowing (6 interceptions being the only significant number to jump off the page) but those watching the match could not help gushing over his play as the match unfolded, so influential was his presence.
With Hector Bellerin out of the starting XI with knee inflammation, and Calum Chambers deputising in his stead, Kolasinac was left as the most forward-thinking defender, and he was a constant presence thundering up the left flank, playing combinations in to the midfielders and forwards to get the ball into danger areas as quickly as possible. He may not yet have the best delivery from crosses, too often having his head down when on the ball to pick out a teammate, but his sense of timing and space is exceptional, and he always seems to find room to operate for himself when he does get forward. In defence, Kolasinac managed to avoid some of the poor angles and overly aggressive tackles that had precipitated his benching for Ainsley Maitland-Niles earlier in the season.
Fans will be praying that his injury, which forced Maitland-Niles to replace him after an hour, is nothing too serious. His attacking intelligence and intimidating, physical style add another dimension to the Arsenal attack, particularly when his form is as good as it was on Thursday. The Gunners failed to threaten the Milan defence as consistently once he was replaced, and Maitland-Niles had a couple tense moments at the back once he came on, leading Arsene Wenger to get another centre back on the pitch and switch to a back 5 in order to preserve the victory. He may not have scored, or even lasted the whole match, but for his exciting runs down the left, his crunching tackles and his solid defensive performance, Kolasinac is your Arsenal Man of the Match.