Europa League: Atletico spoil Wenger’s farewell to qualify for the final
Arsene Wenger was denied the opportunity of a perfect Arsenal farewell as Atletico Madrid won 1-0 to secure a 2-1 aggregate triumph and a spot in the Europa League final.
Wenger confirmed in April that his 22-year association with the club will conclude at the end of the season and the players’ bid to see him sign off with a first European trophy ultimately came up short against Diego Simeone’s characteristically shrewd Atletico, for whom Diego Costa netted the decisive goal.
Arsenal’s luck appeared to be out early on as they lost captain Laurent Koscielny to injury, with the France international now a potential doubt for the World Cup as a result.
While Atletico continued to craft chances in the second half, there was a hint of tension in the stands – from where the banned Simeone watched on – that was transferred to the players and gave Arsenal encouragement.
But the visitors, still facing a battle just to claim a top-six spot in the Premier League, were simply incapable of breaking through Atletico’s exceptionally well-drilled defence as the home side dug deep to hold off Arsenal’s late onslaught, booking passage to the final in Lyon on May 16.
Atletico – who claimed a late draw in London despite having Sime Vrsaljko dismissed and Simeone sent from the touchline – showed their game plan right from the start as they set up to counter, using the strength and pace of Costa and first-leg scorer Antoine Griezmann.
And that approach nearly paid off after just five minutes – Costa barging his way beyond Nacho Monreal before shooting narrowly wide from a good position in the area.
The hosts, who had wasted decent chances through Koke and Griezmann, eventually punished their opponents just before half-time – Costa holding off Hector Bellerin and finishing past David Ospina inside the area following a swift break.
Arsenal stepped things up after the break and nearly levelled early in the second half, but Ramsey scuffed wide under pressure from three defenders after Jack Wilshere’s shot ricocheted into his path.
Simeone’s side almost took advantage with their next attack as Costa charged into the right side of the area before being denied by substitute Calum Chambers as he was about to pull the trigger.
Despite Arsenal’s improvement, they continued to look unimpressive at the back and should have conceded again 23 minutes from time, but Griezmann’s close-range effort was blocked following a fine Costa run and cutback.
Arsenal huffed and puffed in the final stages, but their attacks often lacked craft and direction as Atletico clung on to secure a third appearance in the competition’s final in the last nine years, leaving Wenger to face up to the fact that his final game of a long and distinguished tenure will now come at Huddersfield Town.
Saif Ahmed Chowdhury
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