Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid: Antoine Griezmann levels after Alexandre Lacazette puts Gunners ahead
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Arsenal hosted Atletico Madrid at an atmospheric Emirates in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final in Arsene Wenger’s final game in Europe.
Arsenal were held 1-1 by Atletico Madrid in a night of drama in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final.
A second half header by Alexandre Lacazette put the Gunners ahead before Antoine Griezman equalised with eight minutes remaining.
The Emirates witnessed the most incident-packed and atmospheric opening 15 minutes in its all too-often staid history on Thursday evening.
Diego Simeone showed his volatile side – as well as confirming that he will never manage Arsenal – when he let his frustration get the better of him after a Hector Bellerin foul on Lucas Henandez, leaving the French referee Clement Turpin no choice but to banish him to the stands.
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The reaction came moments after the Croat international Sime Vrsaljko, signed from Serie A minnows Sassuolo, tripped Jack Wilshere after only 120 seconds to rightly earn a yellow card.
The 34-capped fullback failed to heed his lesson as eight minutes later he foolishly lifted his foot off the ground and stamped on Alexandre Lacazette’s boot.
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Whether the intense atmosphere got to him can be argued, but seasoned Arsenal watchers could not recall a more intimidating noise generated by the normally placid home support – who showed the world there is more to the club’s fan base than vapid, self-regarding internet television wanabees.
Arsenal could have should have been ahead by half time. Lacazette’s volley clipped the post. The former Lyon forward then had a header save from the excellent Jan Oblak after a Welbeck cross all in the opening eight minutes.
Bellerin kept marauding down the right flank, attempting to draw in his man in order to exploit the space behind. It worked too, but still a goal would not come as the crowd bayed.
After the sendings-off Welbeck then linked well with Wilshere before the forward, who insisted this week he wanted to win the Europa League for Wenger, forced a sharp save from Oblak.
Ten minutes after that Nacho Monreal then fired a shot narrowly wide after Lacazette flicked on an Ozil cross.
The crowd sung the German’s name in homage. Never more had he been needed to show his class and impose his will on the game.
For the feeling persisted that with the numerical advantage the home side needed to make the difference count in terms of goals scored. For the second leg in Madrid a week hence would be an entirely different matter.
It wasn’t all one way traffic as Thomas Partey dribbled through the heart of the Arsenal defence before feeding Antoine Griezmann who’s powerful low drive was kept out by an alert Ospina
It was appropriate the PA played David Bowie’s seminal ‘Heroes’ during the break. For this Arsenal vintage could write their name into the club’s history if they could achieve a favourable outcome – which meant a clean sheet at the very least.
The second half started at the same hectic pace. It was clear something would have to give. And it did.
Oblak’s stern resistance was breached in the 61st minute by Lacazette after he angled down a header past the Atleti keeper’s left hand and into the net.
The crowd erupted and the team jumped for joy. It was as simple and as complicated as that. The noise and reaction was as much a cathartic release for the pent up tension that has built up this week ahead of the tie.
The question was could Arsenal hold out and keep that vital clean sheet.
No was the answer.
With eight minutes remaining Kocielny battled with Griezmann out side the box but his efforts only resulted in him kicking the ball against his own face. The Atleti attacker and fellow French international then powered on past Ospina.
Still it looked as if Mustafi would be able to cover, but his slip on the line, allowed the Euro 2016 winner to fire home what could be a crucial away goal.
And as the referee blew to end this mesmerising match, the feeling was Wenger must get his side to produce one of his most memorable performances if he is to sign off his tenure with a trophy.