Diego Costa has never looked much like the romantic sort and, faced with the chance to deliver the “decree absolute” in the impending divorce of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, he did not flinch.
The former Chelsea striker’s first-half goal sealed Atletico Madrid’s victory and ensured that what Wenger calls the “love story of my life” will not now end with the fairy-tale of a major European final but rather the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield on Sunday week.
This was Wenger’s 250th European match and also his last truly meaningful occasion as Arsenal manager but, as so often in the past decade, his team found a way to lose when the stakes were at their absolute highest. Yes, Arsenal dominated large periods of both legs but matches are won and lost in the penalty area and, at both ends of the pitch, Atletico were more clinical. In short, Arsenal yet again flattered to deceive.
Premier League matches against Burnley, Leicester and Huddersfield are all that now await but, with a top-four finish long since out of Arsenal’s grasp, the 22nd and final season will officially now be the worst of Wenger’s entire tenure.
Arsenal’s new manager will also find himself taking over a club out of the Champions League for a second year and, for the first time since Wenger arrived at Highbury in 1996, a season will end without either a trophy or top-four Premier League finish.
The real damage was of course done in the first leg when Atletico fashioned a late equaliser to depart London with a 1-1 draw despite playing almost the entire match with 10 men and having only 22 per cent of the ball.
It ensured a sense of momentum going into this second leg that was encapsulated by a banner unveiled in front of the raucous Atletico fans just as the match kicked off with one simple message for their team. “Straight to Lyon,” it said, referring to the destination of this year’s Europa League final.
Confidence was further enhanced by the sight of Costa back in the team after he missed the first leg with a hamstring injury and it was quickly evident that his physicality would again cause Arsenal problems. He had scored three times in six games against them for Chelsea and immediately shrugged off Nacho Monreal with ease. The striker was clean through on David Ospina’s goal but just snatched at his shot.
Laurent Koscielny had left space in the build-up to Costa’s chance and it soon became clear that the damage to Arsenal’s captain and best defender was severe. He has been playing for several years now through Achilles pain and it was this part of his body that had again given way. With Koscielny leaving the pitch on a stretcher, Calum Chambers was summoned to spend the next 78 minutes up against Costa and Antoine Griezmann.
Wenger had said before the game that the way to negate Atletico’s two strikers was by keeping the ball in the opposition half and, with Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Granit Xhaka again lining up in a narrow midfield three, Arsenal did then find a rhythm.
Hector Bellerin was released down the right but, with Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette lining up in the centre, delivered a wastefully over-hit cross. With the home fans whistling disapproval at Arsenal’s passage of possession, Ramsey and Mesut Ozil combined to create space inside Atletico’s penalty area, only for Lacazette’s touch to desert him.
The overlapping runs of Bellerin seemed the best hope of unlocking Atletico but his crossing was too erratic. His adventure also risked being exploited and so it proved when, on the stroke of half-time, Costa muscled his way in behind him and shot past Ospina. Griezmann had provided a superb pass to release Costa and, with Petr Cech named only among the substitutes, Ospina gave further reason to query that decision by going to ground early just as Costa shaped to shoot.
Arsenal did not panic or take unnecessary risks but could only create half chances. That it was then a long-range shot by Xhaka which forced Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak into his only save of the night underlined how badly the visitors had struggled to translate possession into clear opportunities.
The inevitable introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Wilshere was then made and, with just about his first touch, his dipping volley brushed the roof of Atletico’s goal.
The Spaniards, though, have not conceded at home since January and, with Monreal twice wasting good late positions with wayward crosses, it was confirmed that Wenger’s dream of winning a European trophy at Arsenal will never be fulfilled.
He’s not kidding me. He wasn’t fit to wear the shirt tonight. I’ve seen this a lot this season. He’s a World Cup winner. He needs digging out. He’s not doing it for me and Arsene Wenger should come out and say that sometimes.
Was emblematic of their character – frenetic, seat of the pants and often successful in defence tonight, clever in their creative play, lacking a cutting edge, a ruthlessness and a confidence in front of goal. Top marks for artistry at times. Who else laces as many passes through the inside-forward channels. But how they could do with a Diego Costa.
🔴⚪ ¡A LA FINAL DE LA @EUROPALEAGUE!🔴⚪ ¡LYON… ALLÁAAAAAAAA VAMOOOOOOOOOOS! 🔜🇫🇷 ❗❕❗#AtletiArsenal #AúpaAtleti #UEL pic.twitter.com/w3ZQGl4ItU
Salzburg, 2-0 up in the second leg, have taken their semi-final tie against Marseille into extra rime.
Arsenal are out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage and Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal after 22 years without the European trophy that Bertie Mee and George Graham have.
Atletico fizz the passes around 30 yards from the Arsenal goal, inviting a foul and a free-kick so they can colonise the corner.
The first of three added minutes begins with Arsenal probing again, and penetrating into the Atletico area, switching it quickly from side to side but Monreal overhits his cross when he could have had a shot or pulled it back for Ramsey.
Arsenal keep knocking, Welbeck thinks he’s been fouled after Lacazette tries to work a shooting opportunity but runs into a wall.
Bellerin and Xhaka tackle and concede the corner where Koke and Torres try to set up camp. Torres eventually nutmegs Xhaka and glides into the box but his cross skims across goal. Monreal tries to batter it clear but Correa blocks it and Torres has a chance to shoot, meeting it sweetly with a right-foot half volley that Ospina saves smartly.
An Arsenal goal would give us the extra time their performance has merited. Atletico free kick on the left, and Torres and Koke head for the corner.
Monreal is the beneficiary of a fine Arsenal triangular passing move that gets him behind Thomas but his cross is a disgrace, humped miles over the box and out for a throw-in.
Arsenal don’t really have anyone else on the bench to make a significant difference, unless they chance their arm with Eddie Nketiah. Go on. Think Rashford. Think Vaessen.
Diego Costa flashes a 25-yard shot straight at Ospian who pats it down and catches it at the second attempt. He goes down with cramp and Atletico give it the whole #prayforDiego nonsense and demand Arsenal kick the ball out, which they shouldn’t and don’t.
Diego Costa and Mustafi get out their El Corte Ingles handbags at the edge of the Arsenal area, chest each other off after Mustafi first puts his hand in his back. Diego Costa gave him a welcoming look as if to say, ‘you’re trying this with me?’
From the free-kick, Atletico switch the ball to the left and back over to Griezmann at the edge of the area on the right. He soft-shoes into the box and shapes to hit until Xhaka, who has played terrifically well tonight, slides in to nick it away at the 11th hour.
Diego Costa goes up with Xhaka and invites the shove with his body position which inspires him to hit the turf and win the free kick.
Atletico make their first substitution: Angel Correa replaces Vitolo. Rafa Nadal is shown in the crowd with an Atletico scarf on. Thought he was Mallorca?
Ozil takes with his left from the left, Arsenal win the header at the back post and work it Mkhitaryan on the edge of the box. His exquisite control makes it sit up nicely for him and he scythes a dipping right foot shot that trims the top of the bar and shaves the outside roof of the net.
Perhaps Chambers is going to amke it after all. He played very well at Old Trafford and is doing so again here, thwarting Diego Costa again. Arsenal break from the Atletico corner and win one of their own off Thomas.
Diego Costa turns Mustafi and sends him off for a paper and a pint of milk. He leaves him on his backside in the box, and pokes a short pass to Griezmann to set up a shot from eight yards. He strikes it with his left, hits a scrambling defender and the ball loops up favorably for Ospina.
Mkhitaryan is taking off his trackie top and is poised to come on. Wilshere?
Xhaka decides rather than going round it, or over it, to try to go through it with a dipping left foot shot from 22 yards that Oblak pushes round the post for a corner that comes to naught.
Half a minute later Ozil is free again, this time more outside left than inside left and belts in a hip-high cross through the six-yard box that Lacazette tries to meet with a diving header but is just behind it. Atletico use their nous to knock it out of the box …
Ozil again makes headway through the inside left channel and centres with his left foot. Godin hacks it clear at the near post. Replays show that he could have had a shot with his first touch instead of tightening the angle. Thomas’s heavy touch played him in.
Griezmann takes the free-kick 25 yards out, left of centre and flashes it past the right post.
Wilshere gives the ball away when he thought he had more time. Atletico counter sharply and Monreal, hounding back, fouls Griezmann at the second opportunity to concede a free-kick 25 yards out and earn a booking for his heavy-handedness.
Arsenal enjoy a spell of pressure after a couple of careless passes from Koke and Vitolo. They can’t make anything inside the box but keep probing away.
Brilliant and vital tackle from as Diego Costa turned in the box smartly and lost Mustafi to create the space to shoot. But as he cocked his leg, there was Chambers to stab the ball away from him.
Chance! Wilshere slices a volley from the edge of the box that falls fortuitously for Ramsey to the left of the penalty spot. He takes it on his thigh to move to the right but Godin and Gabi and Thomas swarm him and he has the tiniest of gaps. He cannot pierce it and guides his shot cum lob wide of the left post.
Excellent recovery work from Xhaka as Diego Costa and Griezmann broke together and ran at the two centre-backs. He tracked back diligently and cut out Diego Costa’s pass to his partner.
Griezmann floats the corner from the right towards the back post where Diego Costa pops up unchallenged to head it down Ospina’s throat. It didn’t have enough pace on the cross for Diego Costa to work with but had it been more whipped he could have scored because the defending was so lax.
Griezmann goes up for a header with Chambers and wins it. Chambers scurries back and stops him crossing at the price of a corner.
No changes at half time. Perhaps Mkhitaryan could find a way through. Bellerin fouls Lucas Hernandez deep in the Atletico half. Oblak takes the free-kick and whacks it long.
It’s been confirmed that Koscielny has ruptured his achilles, sadly, and will miss the World Cup.
Looks like he has ruptured his achilles tendon. He went down and immediately looked around as if he’d been hit by something, which is the common reaction, according to Jermaine Jenas who suffered the same injury.
Cruel at the death after an impressive performance from Arsenal. But their mission has not substantially changed. They had to score anyway and they still have to score. One doubts Atletico’s defence will have a brain fade of Bellerin proportions so Arsenal will have to shoot rather than trying to waltz it into the net when Ramsey picks the lock again.
Simple ball from Griezmann from the right to the left. Bellerin was caught out of position with Diego Costa ahead of him. He takes two strides and spanks a left-foot riser over Ospina’s frantic dive. It all came from an Oblak missile.
Diego Costa puts Atletico ahead only a minute before time’s up.
Chambers makes two crucial interventions, the first assuredly with a header, the second turning Arsenal supporters’ trousers brown as he tried to turn Diego Costa and didn’t seem to see Griezmann’s presence. But he gets away with it. Had he lost it there, Atletico would have been one-on-one with Ospina.
Arsenal have played very well but they need to take their chances. They are chipping away and creating half- and quarter-chances. If they persevere, they can only hope a three-quarter or better one comes.
Wilshere blocks Gabi, the two colliding and Wilshere is booked, as Atletico’s protesting players demanded.
And then from Griezmann, from a well-worked free-kick on the right that is chipped towards him. Ramsey tells Wilshere to mark him but Griezmann manages to shimmy free, spin and steer a left-foot shot around the far post. Chambers slid in to try to make sure it wouldn’t go in but had he touched it, it might well have done.
A couple of scares for Arsenal, the first from Koke’s vicious volley from the edge of the box that torpedoes wide of the goal. Ospina’s fault for hacking the ball into touch and conceding a throw.
Monreal is the latest recipient of a clever threaded pass into the box from Ramsey down the inside-left channel but the ball zooms away from him after his concrete first touch and Gimenez blocks his path to retrieving it as it scuds towards Oblak. Monreal, affronted, gives the defender a shove in the back but claims it was his momentum not his malice.
Arsenal concede a cheap corner on the Atletico right. Thomas stings Ospina with a shot that wouldn’t have counted because Godin created the space for the shot by barging Mustafi to the ground.
Chance for Arsenal, a half chance he turned into a quarter-chance when played down the inside-left channel by Ramsey. He tried to settle his stride to soot but took it too wide with a heavy touch and had instead to spin by the touchline and square to Ramsey who was surrounded. Ozil helps him out and tries to cross when it’s laid up to him but Godin blocks and Atletico hustle it away. Had Lacazette hit it first time with his left he would have had a decent angle.
A replay shows us that Chambers caught Griezmann with the point of his elbow as the two were running for the ball, causing the cut. ‘Purely accidental,’ says Savage.
Atletico break swiftly through the centre and inside left channels and work it to Diego Costa in the box. He takes a touch too many to try to wriggle past Chambers on his right shoulder but the defender is tenacious and unruffled, staying close and prodding the ball out of Diego Costa’s control.
Griezmann has a gash on the back of his head. Not sure how that happened. Ozil hangs in a left-foot cross from the right towards the 18-yard line but Atletico win the first header. Arsenal take the second ball and pass it around until a careless pass from Welbeck invites danger.
If only Bellerin’s cross had been as good as the pass to him. Atletico counter quickly from Bellerin’s mishit cross and attack up the right. Chambers misjudges the bounce and the ball is scrambled back to Ospina who is charged down by Griezmann and knocks another clearance upfield, as yet not panicked by Griezmann;s attentions.
Wislhere’s cute pass almost lets Bellerin in on the right. It’s clear Arsenal are targeting the flanks – the right thing to do against such a well-organised and compact defence.
Slick, incisive passing from Arsenal frees Welbeck down the left again. He darts between Thomas and Saul and cuts the pass in to Lacazette. He turns and rolls it back for Ramsey who spots Bellerin’s burst into the box from the right and floats over a diagonal that arcs over the right-back and skips into touch.
Ozil is trying to pull Thomas out very wide to break the ‘chains’ connecting the back four. Some encouragement so far but no breakthrough.
Arsenal are maintaining a compact 4-1-4-1 shape when they haven’t got the ball and earn a free-kick when Ramsey hounds Thomas Partey and the makeshift full-back shoves him over after losing the ball. Arsenal go backwards to go forwards from the free-kick, Monreal sent clear down the left. Lacazette peels off towards the penalty spot but Monreal’s pass is angled behind the striker and Gabi, as he so often has been over the past decade, is there to snaffle it.
Saul bends an inswinger into the box with his left from the right, Welbeck wins the near-post header and Arsenal clear their lines momentarily but cannot make the ball stick up front and back come Atleti.
Calum Chambers enters the fray. Monreal barges Diego Costa over as the striker tried to barrel past him down the touchline. This is an unnecessary free-kick to concede, 30 yards out on the right. Saul will take.
On comes the stretcher after the doctor and physio tried to treat him. Chambers stands by the halfway line, waiting to come on as Koscielny departs to a standing ovation.
Laurent Koscielny is badly injured, off the ball. His right ankle gave way beneeath him and he is in agony as he writhes, clutching his achilles. All the players surround the Arsenal captain and France centre-back. It looks a serious one.
Ozil takes the corner but Atletico head it clear and break like lightning up the right. Monreal has to fight Diego Costa for it and is beasted by the former Chelsea forward who carries on his run into the box. Ospina comes out to narrow the angle and Diego Costa spanks a diagonal shot high and wide.
Arsenal break quickly down the right and free Lacazette who makes 20 yards and spins in a menacing cross. Wilshere makes a near-post run and slides in, right leg outstretched but doesn’t make it. He claims he was held but he wasn’t. Gimenez chests it behind for a corner.
Arsenal press determinedly and force Saul all the way back to Oblak. Koscielny and Mustafi show assured touches when cutting out a long ball up between them but Griezmann puts the willies up Ospina when he closed him down smartly. The keeper manages to boot it upfield with his left.
Koke takes the corner that is headed out to Vitolo who smashes in a diagonal that Ospina comes out to punch when he should have caught it but Arsenal get away unmolested when Gimenez fouls Xhaka trying to retrieve the clearance.
Here we go, Arsenal attacking from left to right and Atletico have a throw-in about 10 yards into their half, earning a corner as Bellerin is forced into a corner.
It’s a cracking atmosphere at the Metropolitano as the two sides slap hands. Diego Simeone is not on the touchline after last week’s outburst. Mono Burgos stalks it instead like a Grizzly. Atleti fans are Allez, Allez, Allezing tonight, too. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? BT Sport has give us Robbie Savage. Oh joy!
No team that yields possession strategically and unconcernedly has maintained a challenge for so long at home and in Europe as Atléico Madrid and the main reason they manage to do so without being thrashed is Godin. Although he is well protected by the suffocating Gabi, the combative Uruguayan marshals all his aggressive spirit to deny attackers, nipping in front of them to whip the ball away, knocking them off balance by turning his shoulders and hips into offensive weapons, beasting them in the air and turning every battle into a jarring and bruising encounter. Great defending is about positioning but Godin demonstrates that the heart and bite of an illegitimate lion are just as important. He has become the best about. (122) add
I’m very positive, I believe in the team and I have a certainty that we will give everything we have in the tank tonight. We will take responsibility. We have to take the game to them and we know they will try to hit us on the break. But the only way to score is to play with the handbrake off.
Has turned Bonnie Tyler on BT Sport. He’s holding out for a hero. ‘Is there one in that dressing room for Arsenal tonight? I think there is.’
Atletico Oblak; Partey, Gimenez, Godin, Lucas; Vitolo, Saul, Gabi, Koke; Costa, Griezmann.Substitutes Werner, Filipe Luis, Savic, Olabe, Torres, Correa, Gameiro
Arsenal Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka, Wilshere; Welbeck, Ozil; Lacazette.Substitutes Cech Iwobi, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Nketiah, Mkhitaryan
📋 Our team to face @Atleti in tonight’s @EuropaLeague semi-final#ATLvAFC pic.twitter.com/XGfg5zyGQ8
Arsenal subs are Cech, Chambers, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, birthday boy Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Nketiah
At Wanda Metropolitano. #afc: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Ramsey; Wilshere, Ozil, Welbeck; Lacazette.
🏧👥 | ALINEACIÓN¡Aquí tenéis los 1⃣1⃣ ATLÉTICOS que defenderán hoy nuestros colores de inicio! 🔴⚪🔴 ¡Yo te quiero, Atleti!#AúpaAtleti #AtletiArsenal #UEL pic.twitter.com/IZDCorM3Wx
In come Gabi, Vitolo and Diego Costa for the suspended Vrsaljko plus Correa and Gameiro:
Is due at 7.05pm. Reports from snouts and deep throats in Madrid suggest that Diego Costa will strat instead of Kevin Gameiro. As for Arsenal – Ian Wright would like Konstantinos Mavropanos to start instead of Mustafi. Surely not?!
And what do we make of Antoine Greizmann’s ‘Fortnite’ celebration from last week?
I’m so with it I thought it was a hat tip to London, copying Dick van Dyke’s Step in Time. Chimney sweeps agogo.
This is Arsenal’s eighth European semi-final and, despite understandable pessimism about their chances tonight against Atlético Madrid after the 1-1 draw at the Emirates last week, they do have a very positive record in these games that, in normal circumstances, should imbue them with confidence. They have made it through to the final six times – one Fairs Cup, one Uefa Cup, three Cup Winners’ Cups and a Champions League – losing only in the 2008-09 Champions League last-four tie against Manchester United.
But in 26 Atlético home matches in four competitions at the Metropolitano this season, they have lost only twice and conceded nine goals. At the end of the season Luis Suárez, Carlos Bacca, Willian José, Portu, Jesús Navas, Joaquín Correa, Alvaro Morata, Michy Batshuayi and Michel can say they penetrated European football’s meanest defence. Arsenal’s mission tonight, should they choose to accept it, is to put at least one of their players in that company.
Arsenal have won four of six Europa League away games this season but merely three of 19 in the three domestic competitions. Arsenal’s reserves performed with encouraging enterprise at Old Trafford on Sunday and, though one dismal error by Laurent Koscielny ruined an otherwise mature and efficient showing against Atléti’s 10 men last Thursday, the midfield, forwards and full-backs kept jiggling the key in the lock until they finally cracked it.
Diego Simeone’s Rumpelstiltskin radge last week should not mask his extraordinary achievements at a club he has taken to two Champions League finals, winning Europa League and Liga campaigns and has them second with three games to go while running the balanced budget the new stadium demands.
Essentially he is the player whisperer whose constant invocations of “passion”, “sacrifice”, “effort”, “heart”, “humility” not only beat like war drums in their ears but give his squad a canon they can trust in, one that demonstrably delivers success even when he regularly has to sell players.
He cuts an uncompromising figure in black on the touchline and can be volcanic as he was when he upbraided Raphaël Varane for lack of respect after the 2014 Champions League final defeat. And so is his chief lieutenant, the former Argentina goalkeeper German Burgos. During one Madrid derby in 2012 when Jose Mourinho approached the Atlético bench to remonstrate about something, Burgos made reference to the occasion when Mourinho poked the then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye. “Be careful,” ‘Mono’ Burgos warned Mourinho. “I’m not Tito, I’ll rip your head off.”
For all that Simeone is empathetic too, forging elemental bonds with his clubs, identifying himself so strongly with their cause that he naturally channels the fans’ pain and ambition towards a common purpose.
That used to be Arsene Wenger’s knack but not so much now. If he is to make it to Lyon for a grand finale, he could look to one of Arsenal’s greatest European nights in their long, illustrious, pre-Wenger history. In 1979-80, having drawn 1-1 with Juventus at Highbury in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, they were in danger of going out on away goals at 0-0 in the Stadio Communale. With 15 minutes to go, the coach Don Howe, turned to the late Paul Vaessen and said: “Go on Paul, knock one in for us.” Vaessen replied: “Yeah, OK”.’ (100) add
And with two minutes to go, the young, burly forward whose life spiralled towards tragedy and death at the age of 39 after a knee injury forced his retirement in 1982, did precisely that, getting on the end of a Graham Rix cross and nodding it past Dino Zoff. How they could do with a touch of inspiration like that tonight. Another omen? On May 3 1971, Arsenal won the first part of the Double, taking the league title at White Hart Lane.
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