Atletico Madrid 1-0 Arsenal (2-1 on aggregate): Diego Simeone denies Arsene Wenger a happy ending to his Gunners love story
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Arsene Wenger’s dream of a perfect ending to his ‘love story’ with Arsenal ended in disappointment after a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final on a raucous evening at the Estadio Metropolitano.
A Diego Costa goal blasted past David Opsina moments before half-time sealed the tie 2-1 on aggregate to send Diego Simeone’s side through to the showpiece final in Lyon in two weeks time.
The result puts paid to Wenger’s last hope of bowing out of the North London giants with silverware while also confirming his final match will be in Yorkshire against Huddersfield Town a week on Sunday.
Arsenal fielded the same side that started the first leg against Atleti a week ago, with Wenger opting for Danny Welbeck ahead of Henrikh Mkhitaryan who made the bench – after recovering from a knock on his knee at Old Trafford on Sunday.
It was feared the Armenian had suffered a recurrence of the serious injury with the squad at London Colney on Wednesday after missing the majority of April.
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But as he returned captain Laurent Koscielny suffered a serious injury within a quarter of an hour of the match commencing.
The French centre-half has been a true servant to the club but if it was indeed his achilles that snapped – laying him prone for five minutes before being stretchered off to a sympathetic round of applause – you do fear for his long-term future.
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Certainly his World Cup ambitions could be over. As it was Arsenal had to regroup and draft in Calum Chambers in central defence.
Which bearing in mind Diego Costa had rampaged through the backline moments before Koscielny’s injury had many fearful for the visitors’ prospects.
There followed a shapeless spell as if both sides momentarily attempted to regain their composure in the face of such a serious injury.
Arsenal had their moments as Hector Bellerin continued his duel with Lucas Hernandez from the first leg, knowing there would be space to exploit if he got in behind him.
The visitors started to dominate as if Simeone’s side were in a conundrum as to whether to stick or twist.
While Wenger’s men were starting to gain a foothold in terms of dominating the Ateli side in the final third they were still vulnerable to the counter. As well as simply slack marking which allowed the home forwards valuable space and time.
Griezmann was allowed space to turn and fire off a shot which went narrowly wide after the half hour mark. It was a warning Arsenal needed to heed as they simply could not afford to such talented players do that too often - because as threatening as the Gunners were on the break it appeared such defensive slackness would be punished eventually.
They were of course. At the cruellest possible time, moments before half time.
Chambers failed to achieve power and distance with his header in a deep position, while Bellerin was absent to cover the growing danger after being sucked out of position.
The ball fell to Costa – who else – who simply blasted the ball past Ospina and into the net. You could also argue that the Colombian went to ground far too early, allowing Costa to make his decision.
But that would be to ignore the structural weaknesses that have corroded the Arsenal backline in far too many big games for far too long.
Simeone’s Atleti – who hadn’t conceded a league goal at home in the atmospheric Metropolitano since January 20 – simply sat back and defended against an Arsenal side that moved the ball well but that simply could not get behind the home side’s well-drilled defence.
Perhaps it should not have been a surprise – after all Arsenal hadn’t picked up a single point on their league travels in 2018 despite winning two of their last four away matches in Europe.
With Atleti only letting in a miserly 18 goals in their La Liga campaign – three fewer than champions Barcelona, and 19 fewer than the team below them, third place Real Madrid - a herculean effort was required by the Gunners to ensure Wenger’s final days at the club ended in glory.
It was the Arsenal backline that was found wanting again after Costa turned the cumbersome Mustafi in the box. If it had been the former Chelsea forward’s power that allowed him to break through you could have accepted the fact, but for his finesses to bamboozle the defender simply means the German is just not good enough to play as a first choice centre-back for Arsenal – and probably won’t when the new boss is drafted in.
Moments later Wilshere was replaced by Mkhitaryan with 22 minutes remaining as a last throw of the dice as Arsenal attacked with increasing desperation – as the Armenian substitute let fly just over the bar.
But it was the old warhorse – and true warrior - Costa who deserved all the plaudits after running himself into the ground before being replaced by another former Chelsea striker Fernando Torres with ten minutes remaining.
The crowd released ear-splitting acclaim as he hobbled off after giving Wenger and his defence one final bloody nose.
And as the clock ticked down the joyous crowd knew their team had done enough to see off Wenger’s men – to deny the long serving Frenchman a fairytale ending.