Welbeck dive helps Arsenal complete the Italian Job

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The England striker flopped to win a controversial penalty as the Gunners secured their place in the Europa League quarter-finals

A game of emotions was encapsulated by Gennaro Gattuso's gesticulations on the touchline as Arsenal secured their place in the Europa League quarter-finals with a 3-1 win over AC Milan at Emirates Stadium.

It could and arguably should have been tighter than the scoreline suggested after Hakan Calhanoglu's ferocious first-half strike caught goalkeeper David Ospina on his toes. The Colombian could have perhaps gotten a hand on the strike but it was a delicious effort worthy of winning such a glamorous European tie, although on this occasion it wasn’t to be for a team who went into the first leg an impressive 13 games unbeaten under Gattuso.

Danny Welbeck’s last goal in European competition was almost four years ago and he played like a man with increased confidence following his call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad earlier in the day.

Welbeck has struggled to influence games in recent weeks but provided the talking point of the match shortly before half-time when he appeared to dive in the box with Milan defender Ricardo Rodriguez close to him. The Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson, who is a multi-millionaire and previously admitted that he "referees for fun," consulted with the fourth official before awarding Arsenal a penalty which proved to be the turning point of the game.

Gattuso was understandably animated on the touchline and despite Milan’s protestations the penalty decision stayed and Welbeck put it away with ease. Diving has become a major talking point in English football over the past few months with Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli courting criticism for his theatrics against Liverpool and Crystal Palace. 

It appears that English footballers have overtaken their foreign counterparts where diving is concerned, with Dele, Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge all guilty of tricking the officials into sending them off in recent seasons.

Gunners boss Wenger jokingly asked a journalist after the game "do you want me to accuse the English players of being divers?" before admitting that he hadn't seen a replay of the incident, while Gattuso on refused to speak about the referee, saying "I don't want an alibi."

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Wenger urged his team to win over fans with an improved performance on Thursday night and three consecutive victories in all competitions should be the tonic to do just that. The Frenchman has been under intense scrutiny this season following an inconsistent campaign littered with poor performances, but a run in the Europa League may be what Arsenal need to push themselves onto the next level.

While they only trailed on the night for just four minutes, they were never behind on aggregate in either match with the main negative of the night being Laurent Koscielny's apparent hip injury which the French centre back will hope to recover from over the international break.

There was no cliff hanger ending on this Italian Job, and with Atletico Madrid among the big names waiting in the wings up next, whoever comes up against Wenger’s side in the next round will be weary of a team who were written off before they even set foot on the San Siro last week.

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