Arsene Wenger refused to condemn Danny Welbeck for appearing to dive against AC Milan but plans to give the Arsenal striker his honest verdict once he has again watched it.
Arsenal trailed 1-0 to Hakan Calhanoglu’s fine goal when Welbeck went down in the area under minimal contact from the visitors’ Ricardo Rodriguez and was controversially awarded the penalty from which he scored.
The obvious lift the equalising goal gave them then led to further finishes from Granit Xhaka and Welbeck — on the day he was included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad — securing their progress to the Europa League’s quarter-finals.
AC Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso refused to blame the penalty for his side’s elimination via a 5-1 aggregate scoreline after their 3-1 defeat, and Wenger said: “I haven’t seen it again. Do you want to accuse English players of being divers?
“There’s two things: was it a penalty or not? I don’t know. The Italian players were unhappy with it. I can understand that, because I don’t really know what it was. After that, Danny took the penalty in a convincing way, and I will watch it again and give my honest feeling about it.
“I will give him my honest feeling about it as well (if I view it as a dive), don’t worry.
“We were in protective mode, subconsciously, and played a little bit with the handbrake from the start. When you’re 1-0 down you could see the response was in the team and when we pushed forwards we were dangerous. We finished in a convincing way.”
Their latest success followed improved performances in the first leg against Milan and Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Watford that between them have eased the pressure growing on Wenger and helped Arsenal move on from what he described as a “nightmare week”.
The club’s supporters had responded to their four successive defeats by attending fixtures in reduced numbers but the attendance against Milan was recorded at 58,973.
“For the climate around the team it was a vital result,” said Wenger.
“We have targets to finish as close as possible to the top four, and why not benefit from a miracle? But as well, focus on the quarter-final now.
“Maybe the biggest favourite (for the Europa League) is Atletico Madrid. We have to wait and see who we get. If we get Atletico Madrid, we get Atletico Madrid.”
Of central defender Laurent Koscielny, who came off in the 11th minute with an injury, the 68-year-old added: “He got a kick on his back. We don’t think it’s bad but he cramped up and couldn’t go on.”
Gattuso said: “(Welbeck’s) a striker, he has to do what he does.
“We can’t use that as a reference for English football. There’s a great deal of fair play in England.
“When I was a player, I’d try to take advantage of individual situations, but I’m not going to judge these things.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee (Jonas Eriksson). I don’t want any alibi. In the same way (goalkeeper Gianluigi) Donnarumma made a mistake, as you can, a referee can make a mistake as well.”