The Gunners have toiled this season and find themselves languishing in sixth in the Premier League. With a top-four finish unlikely, the Europa League is their likeliest route back into the Champions League next season and as such there is pressure on the team to perform in that competition.
Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey have them in the driving seat against the Italians, arresting, temporarily at least, a poor run of form that had seen them lose four successive matches.
Such a sequence of negative results had seen the spotlight turn towards the team and manager Arsene Wenger, and Xhaka believes the Gunners have started to answer critics who had questioned their heart.
“A lot of people spoke about us from the outside, but nobody knows what is inside the team,” the 25-year-old told the club’s official website.
“We showed togetherness today, we showed spirit and a lot of character.
“Everyone knows that we lost the last four games and that was difficult for us. It was important to be together and to show the people on the outside that we are a team. We showed a good game today.”
With a two-goal cushion to protect at the Emirates next week, the Switzerland international is confident the Gunners can win through.
“At the start it was a little bit difficult for us, but after that we made it our game and we scored,” he said. “I think 2-0 here in Milan is a good result for the first leg.
“Now we want to finish the second leg and to win as well again at home.”