Mkhi­taryan stamps his mark with Ar­se­nal

New Straits Times - - SPORT -

LON­DON: Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan has been at Ar­se­nal for less than two months, but that hasn’t stopped the fiercely-driven star from ruf­fling a few feath­ers as he tries to lead the Gun­ners to Europa League glory.

Mkhi­taryan has al­ready es­tab­lished him­self as a key fig­ure in Arsene Wenger’s trou­bled side.

The 29-year-old found him­self frozen out by United man­ager Jose Mour­inho, but Wenger is more ap­pre­cia­tive of his qual­i­ties and has in­stalled him on the right of his three-man at­tack­ing mid­field.

Mkhi­taryan has scored in his last two ap­pear­ances for Ar­se­nal, with his maiden goal com­ing in their cru­cial 2-0 win at AC Mi­lan in the Europa League last 16 first leg.

Af­ter net­ting again in Sun­day’s 3-0 vic­tory over Wat­ford, Mkhi­taryan has done his bit to ease the pres­sure on Wenger, who is fight­ing to save his job af­ter another mis­er­able sea­son.

Qual­i­fy­ing for next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League is es­sen­tial to Wenger’s hopes of ex­tend­ing his 22-year reign and, with their do­mes­tic form so patchy this year, win­ning the Europa League is their only re­al­is­tic way of achiev­ing that goal.

With that in mind, Mkhi­taryan’s pres­ence at the Emi­rates Sta­dium might be seen as a good omen for Wenger.

Al­though Mkhi­taryan strug­gled to con­vince Mour­inho of his worth, he was still a valu­able con­trib­u­tor to their Europa League suc­cess last sea­son.

And it is that will­ing­ness to face po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing sit­u­a­tions that prompted him to is­sue a de­fi­ant chal­lenge to Ar­se­nal’s fu­ri­ous fans this week.

The north Lon­don club are with­out a league ti­tle since 2004 and fans have lost pa­tience with Wenger’s fail­ure to build a new pow­er­house.

Recog­nis­ing that in­ter­nal strife will dent Ar­se­nal’s bid to get back on track in the clos­ing weeks of the sea­son, Mkhi­taryan called on sup­port­ers to show their true colours.

“We’re al­ways play­ing for the fans, it doesn’t mat­ter if they could have come to­day or not,” Mkhi­taryan told beIN Sports.

“We’re al­ways play­ing for those who come and sup­port us; the peo­ple who are re­ally com­ing and sup­port­ing us are real fans.

“Those who are com­ing to the sta­dium just when we are win­ning we have noth­ing to say. Just thanks to the fans who were sup­port­ing.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Ar­se­nal, the old friends will be sep­a­rated for the Mi­lan clash as Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang isn’t al­lowed to play.

Aubameyang is cup-tied de­spite not play­ing in the Europa League this sea­son be­cause Dort­mund dropped from the Cham­pi­ons League into the Europa League, mak­ing him in­el­i­gi­ble to rep­re­sent his new club due to UEFA rules.

The ab­sence of Aubameyang places ex­tra pres­sure on Mkhi­taryan and judg­ing by his ini­tial im­pact in an Ar­se­nal shirt he will be up to the task.

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