After failing to take advantage of favourable circumstances in London, Arsenal have it all to do in the return leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid on Thursday (20:05 BST, live on BT Sport).
Arsenal were given an excellent opportunity to establish a commanding first-leg lead when Atletico were reduced to 10 men on the 10-minute mark at the Emirates last week. But despite dominating possession, territory and the shot count, they were unable to do so.
In fact, they came out of the match in a poorer position than they went into it. A combination of strong defending and a couple of superb saves from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak limited them to just a single goal, scored by Alexandre Lacazette on the hour mark. Atletico then struck a killer blow when Antoine Griezmann pounced on a mistake to equalise late on.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger described it as “the worst possible result” for his side. Atletico’s away goal means that Arsenal must now score on Thursday to have any chance of reaching the final. Wenger talked of needing to travel to Madrid “in a positive mood,” but in truth, it is difficult to see Arsenal getting the result they need in the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
The Gunners have struggled away from home throughout the campaign. Their 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday was their 10th away loss in the Premier League this season. Their road record is comparable to those of the teams fighting relegation. They have been better in Europe but not sufficiently so to suggest success is likely in this match on Thursday.
Wenger’s side do, of course, have the added motivation of providing their manager with a glorious end to his 22-year reign in North London. They have also achieved some notable results in knockout competition in recent years, including defeating Manchester City and Chelsea en route to winning last season’s FA Cup and then besting Chelsea over two legs in the semi-final of this season’s Carabao Cup.
There are just a few too many flaws in their makeup to think they can reproduce those results in midweek. Arsenal are a decent team and have an attack that is good enough to cause most sides problems, but they concede too many goals and lack a certain degree of bite and determination in midfield. While they may be capable of outplaying similarly attributed opponents, Atletico are just the sort of pragmatic and well-organised side they struggle with.
Diego Simeone’s team have not quite been at their snarling best this season, but they still sit second in La Liga and have a home record that indicates they are more than capable of getting the result they need to progress. They have kept 11 consecutive clean sheets at the Wanda Metropolitano and had put together a run of 10 consecutive victories prior to their 0-0 draw at home to Real Betis two weeks ago.
Over the course of the entire campaign, Atletico have conceded just nine times in 26 home matches in all competitions. Out of those 26 matches, only two ended in scores that would see them eliminated if repeated after 90 minutes on Thursday. More broadly, they have won four and drawn one of their last five home legs in European semi-finals.
With the Uruguayan central defensive partnership of Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, both of whom come into the second leg well rested, and the outstanding goalkeeping of Oblak, who is expected to recover from a minor muscular issue to start, Atletico have a very strong defensive base. While their attack rarely sparkles, in Griezmann they have a difference maker. Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa will also be available after injury.
Arsenal have some talented players but not the same collective organisation and resolve as Atletico. The way the Spanish side went about their task after Sime Vrsaljko’s early sending off at the Emirates made that clear. Atletico are a side built for knockout competition and can be expected to secure their place in the Europa League final with victory on Thursday. If you are taking on the bookmakers then this preview’s recommended Atletico Madrid vs Arsenal betting tips selection reflects that opinion.