Milan edged into the last 16 of the Europa League on away goals after being held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Red Star Belgrade at San Siro.

Reeling from Red Star's last-gasp equaliser in the first leg and Sunday's 3-0 derby defeat to Serie A title rivals Inter, Milan just did enough to secure their progress on Thursday – and they had birthday boy Gianluigi Donnarumma to thank.

Franck Kessie's early penalty put Milan 3-2 up on aggregate, but Red Star hit back through El Fardou Ben.

With Milan profligate at the other end, 22-year-old Donnarumma had to pull off an outstanding stop to deny Sekou Sanogo, before Marko Gobeljic's red card dented Red Star's comeback hopes.

A penalty was the reward for Milan's bright start when VAR adjudged Gobeljic to have purposefully handled Rade Krunic's shot.

Kessie made no mistake from the resulting spot-kick, his thumping strike sending Milan Borjan the wrong way.

Yet Red Star fought back, and after Ben saw a goal disallowed and hit the crossbar with a wicked free-kick, the Red Star winger drilled a crisp finish beyond Donnarumma.

Diogo Dalot should have restored Milan's lead, yet struck straight at Borjan, and he was almost punished when Guelor Kanga's thunderous hit whistled wide.

Stefano Pioli wasted no further time in attempting to wrest back control, introducing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebic at the interval.

The duo almost combined eight minutes after the restart – Rebic just failing to divert Ibrahimovic's header home.

Donnarumma came up with a reminder of his talent after the hour, somehow keeping out Sanogo's close-range volley, with Gobeljic slicing wide on the rebound.

Gobeljic compounded Red Star's frustration moments later when he charged in on Hakan Calhanoglu to pick up a second booking, and though Alexis Saelemaekers had a goal disallowed for offside, Milan nevertheless made their numerical advantage count to advance.

 

What does it mean? Rossoneri condemn frustrating European run to the history books

Milan had been eliminated from each of their last seven two-legged ties in major European competition when failing to win the first leg, last progressing from such a position in the 2006-07 Champions League semi-finals against Manchester United.

Carlo Ancelotti's Milan side went on to win the competition that season, and Pioli will be hoping history repeats itself – albeit in UEFA's second-tier tournament.

Kessie spot on

Former Atalanta midfielder Kessie has now netted eight goals in all competitions this season – seven times in Serie A and once in the Europa League.

It is already Kessie's best tally in a campaign, and he capped another all-action performance with his superb penalty. Of his eight goals, seven of them have been spot-kicks.

Leao flounders up front

Asked to lead the line with Ibrahimovic on the bench, Rafael Leao endured a difficult first-half performance.

Leao managed just eight touches, though they did produce two attempts – neither were on target, while he made just four passes before he was hauled off at half-time.

What's next?

While Proleter Novi Sad are Red Star's next opponents in the Serbian top flight, Milan face Roma – who are just five points behind them in Serie A – on Sunday

Manchester United booked their place in the last 16 of the Europa League after an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad at Old Trafford on Thursday. 

With their progress to the next round all but secured after a thumping 4-0 first-leg win in Turin last week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted to start with Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw on the substitutes' bench, while Dean Henderson replaced David de Gea in goal. 

Mikel Oyarzabal should have taken advantage of a sluggish start from United, but his early penalty flew well over, while Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James went close for the hosts before the break. 

Substitute Axel Tuanzebe saw an effort ruled out during an insipid second half, though it mattered little in the end as United booked their place in Friday's last-16 draw with the minimum of fuss.

La Real were given a golden opportunity to take a 13th-minute lead when James clumsily brought down Andoni Gorosabel in the penalty area, but Oyarzabal blazed the resulting spot-kick over.

Only a superb touch from Victor Lindelof prevented Alexander Isak tapping home at the back post soon after, while Anthony Martial was denied by Alex Remiro at the other end as United belatedly woke from their slumber. 

Fernandes then whipped a fine effort against the crossbar from 16 yards before Remiro pawed away James' header shortly before half-time.

Rashford replaced Fernandes at the break and flashed a 30-yard free-kick past Remiro's left-hand post soon after, while Modibo Sagnan headed against the crossbar for the LaLiga side. 

Tuanzebe thought he had scored his first United goal shortly after the hour mark, but his powerful header was ruled out for a foul by Lindelof following a pitchside review by referee Lawrence Visser.

Shola Shoretire became United's youngest ever player in European competition at the age of 17 years and 23 days when introduced with 14 minutes remaining as the Red Devils stretched their unbeaten run at home in the Europa League to 15 games.

Nathan Patterson repaid the faith shown in him by Steven Gerrard with a goal as Rangers beat Royal Antwerp 5-2 to reach the last 16 of the Europa League.

Rangers scored two late goals last week to take a slender lead into Thursday's reverse fixture and extended their lead inside nine minutes through Alfredo Morelos' strike en route to a 9-5 aggregate victory.

Lior Refaelov added to his goal and two assists from the first leg by equalising for Antwerp in Glasgow, but substitute Patterson - given a reprieve by Gerrard after his recent breach of coronavirus protocols - made an instant impact to put the Gers back in front.

Ryan Kent gave the hosts more breathing space nine minutes later and although Didier Lamkel Ze pulled one back another for Antwerp, Borna Barisic and Cedric Itten netted late penalties as Rangers reached the last 16 for the second year running.

Kent was among the scorers in the gripping first leg and was involved from the off here, testing Ortwin De Wolf with a low drive before picking Jeremy Gelin’s pocket and setting up Morelos for a simple finish.

Rangers had won just one of their four Europa League knockout matches at Ibrox and they were pegged back by Refaelov's deft finish following some good play out wide from Jordan Lukaku.

Gerrard replaced Leon Balogun with Patterson at the interval and that paid instant dividends as the teenage right-back, a surprise inclusion in the matchday squad, got in behind and picked out the bottom corner 16 seconds after being brought on.

Morelos then repaid the favour to Kent for the earlier assist by knocking the ball past Martin Hongla and crossing for his team-mate to finish, giving Rangers a three-goal advantage on aggregate.

Antwerp, competing in their first major European knockout match since 1994-95, gave themselves hope thanks to Lamkel Ze's tap-in following a comical coming together between Connor Goldson and Allan McGregor.

But Rangers extended their lead through Barisic's penalty - awarded for Maxime Le Marchand's trip on Morelos - which was followed up by another from the spot in the closing stages, converted by Itten.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pounced for the goal that could save Arsenal's season as his late header earned a 3-2 win over Benfica in Greece.

The Gunners scraped through to the Europa League last-16 stage, winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate thanks to two goals from captain Aubameyang and one from Kieran Tierney, but it was very nearly a shocker of a night for Mikel Arteta and his team.

They took the lead through Aubameyang, but Dani Ceballos then blundered twice and Diogo Goncalves and Rafa put Benfica ahead.

Kieran Tierney hit back, yet it looked as though Arsenal, the designated home team, would be eliminated on the away-goals rule until Aubameyang headed in Bukayo Saka's cross in the 87th minute, ensuring their only realistic route into next season's Champions League was not cut off.

Jose Mourinho lavished praise on Tottenham youngster Dane Scarlett following an impressive Europa League cameo, likening him to Manchester United star Marcus Rashford.

The 16-year-old made his fourth senior appearance for the club on Wednesday, coming off the bench for the final 10 minutes a 4-0 win over Wolfsberger.

And he made a telling impact almost immediately, hustling a defender out of possession to set up Carlos Vinicius for the hosts' fourth goal.

Mourinho could barely contain his delight at the rapid progress of a player whose quality reminds him of another major talent he once helped develop.

"He is a diamond, a kid with incredible potential," the Portuguese told BT Sport.

"He has worked many times with the first team and that gives him a different personality. He is still 16, 17 soon [in March] and I believe next season he will be a first-team squad player because he has a lot of talent.

"He is going to be a fantastic player and I hope everything around him goes well. He is a striker, a number nine, I have been playing him from the sides similar to Marcus Rashford and he is very clever.”

Mourinho praised Scarlett even further in his post-match media conference, revealing the teenager is already splitting his time between the senior squad and Under-23s.

"Dane has incredible talent. I don't want to speak too much because tomorrow I arrive in the building and the kid's boss is going to kill me," he added.

"I don't want that so I don't want to speak too well about him. I just want to say that he will be 17 next month and I want him to be part of the first-team squad next season.

"So this season he is there and here, goes to training sessions with us and matches with the kids of his age and trains there.

"Next season he has to be a first-team player. Immense talent. Very good physical development.

"He's very good, he's going to be very good. I hope that nothing is going to destroy that potential. He must have feet on the ground and head on his shoulders because he has a fantastic talent."

Thursday marks exactly five years since Marcus Rashford exploded onto the scene for Manchester United.

Having been fast-tracked into the first-team squad due to injuries, the then-18-year-old was handed a surprise start against Midtjylland in the Europa League after Anthony Martial was injured in the warm-up.

Rashford responded with two goals in a 5-1 win, both in front of the Stretford End, in a game neither he nor fans have forgotten.

On February 25, 2021, Rashford could well be afforded a rest when United host Real Sociedad at Old Trafford, having scored in the 4-0 first-leg win to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in control of the tie.

The importance of saving Rashford for major games to come is a sign of his status within the squad after five years, three different permanent managers and a single-minded development into an elite forward in the making.

FORMIDABLE

Rashford has played 253 times in all competitions for United, starting 181 of those games. Nobody has played as many for the club since his debut, with David de Gea next on 227 appearances.

The 23-year-old has scored 85 goals – as many as David Beckham managed in his Red Devils career – and provided 38 assists. Again, that's the most of any player in the past five years, with Martial next on 68 goals and 36 assists.

Rashford averages a goal every 198 minutes across his United career, with the vast majority (70) coming from his right foot. Although 75 of his goals have been scored from inside the box, he has scored more often from outside the penalty area (10 times) than he has from the spot itself (nine).

After scoring eight goals in his debut season in 2015-16, Rashford has consistently built on his numbers, with 11, 13 and 13 registered in the following three seasons. Last term was undoubtedly his best, with 22 goals and eight assists in 44 appearances, and he is on target to beat that in 2020-21, having already scored 18 and set up a further nine.

FAVOURITES

Rashford might be happy to be facing Chelsea on Sunday. He has scored five times against the Blues in 12 games, making them his favourite opponents alongside Leicester City (five goals in 11 games).

Rarely one to shy away from the big occasion, Rashford has scored four times against Liverpool and Manchester City, and three against Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Tottenham.

His favourite supporting act is Juan Mata, who has provided the most assists (seven) for Rashford goals, ahead of Martial (six). Perhaps in a sign of United's greater attacking endeavours under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, three of the players to assist Rashford the most (Daniel James and Mason Greenwood with four, and Bruno Fernandes with five) have all made their debuts since the start of last season.

HALL OF FAME

Rashford has been directly involved in 80 goals (53 scored, 27 assisted) in his 167 Premier League appearances to date. That's a better return than David Beckham (77), Ryan Giggs (75) and Paul Scholes (64) managed in their first 167 games in the competition.

He is a little way behind Cristiano Ronaldo, who managed 98 combined goals and assists in his first 167 games in England's top flight, while Rashford's manager Solskjaer recorded 106 goal involvements in those first 167 outings, just behind Andrew Cole (108) and Wayne Rooney (111).

Interestingly, Martial managed more (81) in just his first 165 Premier League appearances. Similarly, Ruud van Nistelrooy needed just 150 Premier League games to provide 109 direct goal involvements, while the great Eric Cantona reached 115 in just 143 games.

Jose Mourinho is delighted by Dele Alli's return to form after he lit up Tottenham's Europa League win over Wolfsberger with an outstanding overhead kick.

Boasting a 4-1 lead from the away first leg, Spurs were dominant again in the return fixture, a 4-0 success.

Not since 2011-12, when coach of Real Madrid against APOEL, had Mourinho had a team score eight times over the course of a European knockout tie, and Alli was the star of the show.

Wednesday's game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium saw Alli make only his eighth start of the season - only one of which has come in the Premier League, in the opening-day defeat to Everton - but he made the most of his opportunity.

As well as executing a marvellous acrobatic volley - his first non-penalty goal of the campaign - at the end of a move he started, the England international provided two assists, doubling his seasonal tally.

This was the first time ever in a European match Alli had both a goal and an assist and the first time in any Tottenham fixture since December 2018.

These contributions and an impressive all-round display, including two shots, three key passes and 66 touches, suggest Alli is rediscovering his best form under Mourinho.

Since initially impressing when the Portuguese was appointed in 2019, Alli has fallen badly out of favour and was linked with a loan exit in January.

But Mourinho told BT Sport: "He had a difficult period. He had an injury, and at the same time he had an injury, it was the same period of talk, talk, talk about staying, leaving, leaving, staying.

"The market closed, the injury is gone, he started working with lots of motivation, and it's coming. That's what we need."

In his post-match news conference, the Spurs coach added: "The goal I don't need to speak [about] because everyone watched it and I believe around the world, on all these sports TV [channels], people are going to watch it.

"I don't need to talk about it. For me, the globality of the performance is what matters. He played very well. In every aspect of the game, he played very well.

"Of course he's not fresh, of course we can feel his performance, like in the first leg, from minute 55, 60 is going to go down - which is normal in the circumstances; injured, not training for a long time, come in for a couple of weeks.

"But in this moment where we are going to play every three days, 10 matches in March, to have Dele back at this level is amazing."

Substitute Gareth Bale was the beneficiary of one of Alli's assists, sweeping in a stunning third goal for his second of the tie.

Mourinho insists Tottenham's schedule means he does not need to have a first XI, but he acknowledged it would be hard to continue to leave Alli and Bale out of his league line-up.

"These are the headaches that I love," Mourinho said.

"The headaches I don't like are the headaches of selection [when] lots of people are not performing, lots of doubts, negative reasons. These are wonderful problems."

It was not just a night for Spurs' big names, though, as Dane Scarlett replaced Alli nine minutes from time and immediately teed up the fourth goal for Carlos Vinicius, also the scorer of the second.

Scarlett became the first 16-year-old to record a Europa League assist since Kylian Mbappe against Tottenham in December 2015.

Mourinho described the teenager as "a diamond" to BT Sport and added later: "He has immense talent, very good physical development. He's very good, he's going to be very good.

"I hope that nothing is going to destroy that potential. He must have his feet on the ground and his head on his shoulders because he has fantastic talent."

A spectacular goal from Dele Alli helped Tottenham to a 4-0 win over Wolfsberger on Thursday that secured their place in the last 16 of the Europa League.

Alli scored a stunning bicycle kick in the first half before setting up Carlos Vinicius and substitute Gareth Bale in the second as Jose Mourinho's side eased to an 8-1 aggregate victory.

Spurs' third win in nine games in all competitions, capped by a second from Vinicius, was a routine but welcome one, particularly for Mourinho, who was able to rest stars including Harry Kane and Son Heung-min as he looks to put together a string of results and ease some of the speculation over his future.

Spurs have made something of a habit of starting well this season – in fact, no Premier League team can match their tally of 11 goals in the first 10 minutes of matches in all competitions – but they have rarely broken the deadlock with such a flourish.

Alli played the ball out wide to Matt Doherty, brought down his cross and sent a sublime overhead kick out of the reach of goalkeeper Manuel Kuttin and into the left-hand corner.

Vinicius should have made it 2-0 before the break after rounding Kuttin, but the covering Gustav Henriksson did superbly to clear the striker's effort off the line.

He made no mistake early in the second half, though nodding in Alli's deep cross shortly after Eric Dier had been fortunate to escape punishment for taking out Cheikhou Dieng when the forward was through on Joe Hart's goal.

Spurs got their 100th Europa League goal 17 minutes from time, Bale sweeping an emphatic finish high into the net from Alli's pass after Harry Winks had pressed Wolfsberger into giving the ball away in their own half.

Mourinho handed debuts to Marcel Lavinier and Nile John, while 16-year-old Dane Scarlett was given more first-team experience, the latter setting up Vinicius to blast home his second and Spurs' fourth with seven minutes left.

 

What does it mean? Real work starts now for Mourinho

Defeat at this stage of the competition would have piled further pressure onto Mourinho, although their progress looked almost certain after that first-leg win.

As soon as Alli's magical opening goal effectively killed off any lingering Wolfsberger hopes, Spurs' focus will naturally have drifted towards a key few weeks in their season.

With games against Burnley, Fulham and Crystal Palace up next, this is the chance for Mourinho's men to build some momentum before the north London derby on March 14.

Alli emulates Giroud to give Mourinho food for thought

Not willing to be outdone by a London rival, Alli followed Olivier Giroud's overhead kick for Chelsea against Atletico Madrid with a quite superb version of his own to open the scoring.

It was his first goal since December and the only time he has scored in a game he started for the club since last March. Given he then assisted the next two goals, perhaps it could be a step on the road to redemption in the eyes of the man in charge.

Spurs cruise despite flat Dier

This was a game played mostly at a pedestrian pace, but Dier had one or two uneasy moments at the heart of the defence.

He was lucky not even to concede a foul for bringing down Dieng at 1-0 and lost Dejan Joveljic twice thereafter to give Wolfsberger some half-chances.

What's next?

Spurs host Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, when Wolfsberger are also back in league action at home to Altach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has encouraged Marcus Rashford to follow the example of Cristiano Ronaldo in order to make the most of his Manchester United career. 

February 25 marks five years since the forward's memorable debut for the Red Devils, when he scored twice in a 5-1 Europa League defeat of Midtjylland at Old Trafford. 

Having been drafted hastily into Louis van Gaal's first-team squad due to injuries and then thrust into the starting line-up when Anthony Martial was hurt in the warm-up, Rashford, then 18, struck twice in 12 minutes to help his side progress. 

Rashford has since developed into a key part of United and England's plans, with 85 goals and 38 assists in 253 games in all competitions at club level, plus 11 goals in 40 appearances for the national team. 

His strike in the 3-1 win over Newcastle United last Sunday drew him level with David Beckham for United goals, just 33 behind Ronaldo. 

Manager Solskjaer hopes Rashford takes inspiration from the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who leads the goalscoring charts in Serie A this season after turning 36 three weeks ago. 

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Europa League last-32 second leg against Real Sociedad, Solskjaer said: "He's had an incredible impact on and off the pitch. He's matured, grown into a real proper young man.

"He knows what it takes to be a Manchester United player on and off the pitch, he's taken responsibility on it and off it. I do remember [his debut]: a young little lad coming on, two nice goals, celebration with his team-mates in the stand and I think he's living proof of what we want to do at the club. 

"When you sign for Man United, whether you're five, six, 10, 14, you have a chance to make dreams come true and long may it continue, he's got 10-15 years left in him. 

"You have to be meticulous to last for a long career. We've had the best possible example of that in world football with Cristiano. The way he has looked after himself, the way he came into the club and we all took notice the way he developed throughout his career and the way he looked after himself is major. 

"I'm sure Marcus as well is looking after himself. That's the only way to be at the top: you can't get distracted and if you play until you're 35 you can do whatever you want after that." 

Rashford scored in United's commanding first-leg victory in Turin, a result that puts them in a strong position to progress to the last 16. 

With Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek sidelined and a Premier League game at Chelsea to come on Sunday, Solskjaer could well hand opportunities to youngsters such as Shola Shoretire and Amad Diallo, although Hannibal Mejbri will miss out through injury.

"Amad and Shola will be involved, they're in the squad and I'm not going to tell you if they're starting or not," he said.

"I believe in the youth, I believe if young players, if they get a chance, they can really develop, improve, impress, even surprise you and that's just part of this club and it's part of me.

"I've always loved working with young players and hungry players with a good attitude. If you've got a good attitude, you've got a good chance; if you don't, then there's less of a chance."

Stefano Pioli says Milan have a "desire to restart" as they attempt to recover from their derby loss to Inter.

Milan's 3-0 defeat to the Nerazzurri left them four points adrift of their rivals at the top of the Serie A table having led the way for most of the campaign.

Pioli's men are without a win in three games in all competitions having drawn the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie with Red Star Belgrade 2-2 in between losses to Spezia and Inter.

Speaking ahead of the return leg with Red Star at San Siro, Pioli said: "It is right that there were no smiles on Sunday, but we have a great desire to restart, to express ourselves at our best and to obtain excellent results.

"I see a determined and willing group, eager to return to the levels we have shown. I told the team that there are 90 days left in the championship, it could be 93 with the Europa League final if we were to be particularly good. 

"These days will fly by and will be decisive days to ensure that the season can be positive, very positive or great. 

"Now we have to demonstrate our qualities and our motivations on the field. The group works very well and believes in what it does.

"Matches are all different. The derby was a completely different match. Matches can change during the match, but we need to have clear playing principles that need to start the match one way and keep going all the way. We will be prepared to do it."

On the situation in the tie with Red Star, in which Milan have the edge on away goals, Pioli said: "There is a tough obstacle to overcome, we have a very slight advantage that we will have to be good at exploiting to pass this round."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still speaks to Erling Haaland and said "let's see what life brings" when asked about the striker's future.

The Norway star was a target for the Red Devils before he joined Borussia Dortmund from Salzburg in January 2020.

Haaland's progress in Germany has been remarkable, the 20-year-old having scored 27 goals in all competitions this season, second only to Robert Lewandowski among Bundesliga players.

Clubs including United, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich continue to be linked with a bid for the player, who scored twice against Sevilla last week to become the first player in Champions League history to reach as many as 17 goals in his first 13 appearances.

Solskjaer is still in touch with a youngster who progressed through the system at Molde and is proud of the way he has developed.

"I think when you've had kids and players through as a coach you follow them, and I keep in touch with Erling," he said on Wednesday. "It's great to see him become the player he has become and I know he will improve.

"He's a Dortmund player and we wish him well there. Let's see what life will bring later on."

When pushed further on interest in Haaland last year and how well that reflects on United's recruitment efforts under Solskjaer, he said: "You know I can't speak about Erling because he's with Borussia Dortmund and it's disrespectful to talk too much about it, apart from that I know him and speak to him.

"Who wasn't interested in him a year ago? Everyone would say you take the best players in the world and he's a top player.

"In recruitment, we've done well. The signings we've made since I came to the club have contributed and added to the squad and that's what we have to do: we have to complement what we have with different types of players. I'm happy with our recruitment model and the processes we go through."

United are expected to sanction more outgoings in the next transfer window, with Juan Mata, whose contract expires at the end of the season, among those tipped to leave.

Although United have the option to extend the 32-year-old's deal by a further year, he has only started eight times in 2020-21 and has recently been linked with Serie A giants Juventus, Milan and Inter.

"I'm not surprised teams are interested in him," Solskjaer said. "He's a very good footballer, and a fantastic professional and human being.

"When the contracts are running towards the end, there'll be interest. I'm sure Juan has been able to speak to other clubs if he wanted to.

"I keep in touch with him all the time. We have a good dialogue."

Mikel Arteta has challenged Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to do his talking on the pitch following criticism of the Arsenal forward's performance against Manchester City.  

Aubameyang had just 19 touches and attempted 11 passes in the 1-0 defeat to Pep Guardiola's Premier League leaders at Emirates Stadium, a result that leaves the Gunners languishing in 10th place in the table.  

Jamie Redknapp said in his post-match analysis on Sky Sports that the former Borussia Dortmund player was "past his best" and had "lost his superpower".  

"I saw him run past people when he first came to the Premier League. I saw him run past people at Dortmund. Now I'm seeing a player who looks like he's going to get bullied," Redknapp said of the 31-year-old. 

Aubameyang had scored a hat-trick in his previous league outing, a 4-2 victory over Leeds United, taking his tally in the competition to eight for the season – he managed 22 in his previous two campaigns with Arsenal.  

Arteta did not see Redknapp's comments but is aware of them, leading to him offering support for his under-fire captain ahead of the second leg of the Europa League tie against Benfica.  

"I'm here to support every single player and that is what I try to do all the time,” the Arsenal boss said.

"I try to give them the best possible advice and when they have a difficult moment, stay right behind them and that's what we try to do always." 

He added: "I think the best way to talk is always on the pitch.   

"Seven days before when he scored the hat-trick and he could have scored four or five against Leeds, he was again the main man.   

"He could have scored a hat-trick against Benfica easily with his qualities and it would have been different. At the end [of the day] it's about putting the ball in the back of the net for him and that's how he gets joy."

Arsenal go into the return fixture with the last-32 tie delicately poised at 1-1, Bukayo Saka's second-half goal securing a draw against their Portuguese opponents in Rome last week.

The teenager has been one of few positives for the Gunners in an otherwise difficult campaign, though Arteta is confident the England international can still get even better.

"His form in recent months shows that he's a very important player for us," the Arsenal boss said.

"I think he's getting better and better, his performance levels have been really consistent, so that makes him for sure one of the most important players in recent months.

"He's dealing with things at his age in a very unusual way, but that's why he's showing what he's showing, because his maturity is above his age and so is his intelligence as well."

Mikel Arteta appreciates the pressure is always on at Arsenal as he prepares his squad for a pivotal game against Benfica that will shape the remainder of their season.

Arsenal go into the second leg against their Portuguese opponents with the Europa League last-32 tie delicately balanced following a 1-1 draw in Rome. 

The English club did grab an away goal in the first meeting, though are without the benefit of home advantage for the return fixture. Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the game is to be played in Greece. 

Out of both domestic cups and languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, Europe offers the Gunners their last chance of success in Arteta's first full season in charge. 

"I always feel that it (pressure) is [on me], every time you're playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in, so that doesn't really change much," Arteta said.

"It's a big season and a really important [game], mentally and confidence-wise.  

"It's going to dictate if we're in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It's a really tough opponent.  

"It's a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us, it's a final."

With an 11-point gap to fourth-placed West Ham and just 13 games remaining, it seems improbable that Arsenal can qualify for next season's Champions League through the domestic route. 

The Europa League, therefore, takes on added importance. They have won on each of their previous two visits to Greece as well, albeit both against Olympiacos, including a victory in this same competition a year ago. 

"I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard," Arteta said. "We're going to do that in the league for sure.

"It's true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it.  

"Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we're going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions."

Arteta revealed Thomas Partey is "very close" to a return from a hamstring injury, meaning the midfielder could feature against Benfica. Rob Holding, however, is ruled out due concussion protocols. 

Jose Mourinho says he is already convinced over Gareth Bale's quality and wants him to play a key part in Tottenham's run-in.

Bale impressed with a goal and assist in a 4-1 victory over Wolfsberger in the first leg of the Europa League last-32 tie last week.

Spurs then suffered a damaging 2-1 Premier League loss at London rivals West Ham on Sunday but Bale came off the bench and produced a lively performance, which included an assist for Lucas Moura

Overall, though, the 31-year-old - who is on loan from Real Madrid - has not made the impact expected of him after he signed to huge fanfare in September.

Under-pressure boss Mourinho insists Bale has nothing to prove, other than his ability to play regular games ahead of another hectic part of the season.

"He doesn't need to convince me of anything," Mourinho said ahead of Wednesday's home second leg against Wolfsberger.

"I am totally convinced about everything. It's not about convincing me, it's about being ready to play the minutes we all would love him to play. 

"It's a process. You feel that in his matches in the last couple of years. We want him of course to be ready to play every minute of every game.

"He is a player with special qualities, you could see against West Ham in the second 45 minutes the positive impact in the quality of the game. 

"He had a cross, he had a couple of assists, he hit the crossbar. He is doing that better and better, but he is not playing 90 minutes, he is not playing every game. 

"We have to manage his evolution. But he has nothing at all to convince me about."

With five losses in their last six league games, ninth-placed Spurs are entering a pivotal period where Mourinho will need Bale at his best.

The manager added: "We play 10 matches - seven plus three - in March. That's seven for us at the club plus three for the national team. 

"Our players are going to be on a 10-match run in March which is something absolutely crazy, and Gareth is a special example of a player we need to take care of. 

"I can tell you that at this moment Gareth is playing all the minutes that he can and that we feel good for his evolution. 

"And what he wants and what we want is in this last part of the season is to play more minutes and more crucial matches than he did."

History suggests a dramatic turnaround in the Wolfsberger tie is unlikely.

No team in Europa League history - ncluding when it was known as the UEFA Cup - has overturned a three-goal deficit in an away second leg during the knockout stages of the competition.

In addition, Spurs have won each of their last four home matches in all European competitions, scoring 16 goals while conceding only twice. 

"We want of course to qualify but when you're in a bad run you need victories," said Mourinho, who also confirmed Toby Alderweireld will play.

"I believe what everyone wants in that dressing room is not only to qualify but also win the match. 

"In football anything can happen but the reality is that a 4-1 victory away from home is good. It's not about losing 3-0 or 2-0 though, so we go there with a strong side.

"We go with a bench to help us turn the direction of a game if we need to and at the same time with three or four young players.

"But our first-team line-up will be very similar to the one that started in Hungary because we want to go strong."

Jose Mourinho is convinced he can turn around a wretched run of Tottenham form and save his job as Spurs manager.

A damaging 2-1 loss at London rivals West Ham on Sunday represented a fifth defeat in six Premier League games.

Mourinho has never endured such a poor six-game sequence during his decorated career and Spurs are now ninth in the table having looked like title contenders earlier in the campaign.

The home Europa League last-32 second leg against Wolfsberger on Wednesday – a tie Spurs lead 4-1 – is likely to offer some brief respite to Mourinho.

But with suggestions the club are eyeing up RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann as a replacement if Spurs do not improve rapidly, Mourinho knows the pressure is on.

"I am not happy, but maturity helps, and I am feeling very confident," Mourinho told reporters on Tuesday.

"I believe that we will win through and that I will be in Tottenham's history through good reasons rather than bad.

"Thank God I'm not the manager I was. We all evolve. Sometimes [in the past] I had problems, not in terms of results as I didn't have many bad results, but day-to-day problems.

"I reacted in a much more emotional way. Instead of helping myself, I was creating more conflicts. As an example, I left Chelsea as a champion.

"Maybe your experience as a journalist tells you that people with more experience can deal with negative things better. We are calm."

The West Ham match was Mourinho's 50th Premier League outing in charge of Tottenham, with those games yielding 23 wins, 12 draws and 15 defeats.

Those 81 points overall are 14 fewer than Mourinho has amassed during his first 50 league games with any other club over the course of his career.

Mourinho added: "You say I'm not used to this, which is a positive in the negative, but I want to know which coach has always had blue sky and never cloudy or a bit dark. 

"Perhaps only a coach who is always at a dominant club in a league. It shows how beautiful my career has been. 

"Does it make me depressed? No. It's a challenge. I work for the club, the players and the supporters. I always feel I have to give them so much.

"It hurts me and it's a great challenge for me and I believe I can give it. I give it everywhere I've been and I'm more motivated than ever."

Mourinho was also asked about his relationship with chairman Daniel Levy amid the dreadful run.

He added: "My relationship is the same since day one, which is one of respect and open communication. We respect each other. 

"What I feel to Mr Levy is what I feel in every club I've worked in. I want to give happiness to everyone, the chairman, the players, the fans, everybody connected to the club.

"I feel one of them and I want to give happiness to them. I don't change.

"I never felt lonely in this building. I feel not only respected but supported. Everybody in the same boat. 

"I feel positive. Maybe that is a bit weird for you after losing so many matches but I'm positive. Nobody is happy, nobody is depressed, and everybody feels we are going to do better.

"I'm not happy but I wake up wanting to come here. Everybody is loving training and working hard with so many matches."

After the continental clash, games against Burnley, Crystal Palace and Fulham represent crucial opportunities for Spurs and Mourinho to reverse course.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.