Gunners' Last Stand: Europa League Preview
Arsenal will have to dig deep if they’re going to give their commander in chief a send off to remember
The Gunners could be on the verge of winning soon to be departing manager Arsène Wenger his first ever European honour. That's only if they can overcome an Atlético Madrid side that has only conceded nine goals at home this season in all competitions. Meanwhile in-form Marseille journey to Austria to take on a Salzburg team who are undefeated at home in 38 games.
Atlético Madrid vs. Arsenal (Agg. 1-1) (Thursday 3 May, 20:05 BST)
Many were quick to write Arsenal off when they were drawn against Atlético Madrid. They had come so far, but now they were up against a team who have qualified for the Champions League Final twice in the last four years. It was going to be impossible.
On the contrary when the two teams met last week at the Emirates, Arsenal were the better team. They dominated for large parts of the game and enjoyed an impressive 76% possession, managing a whopping 28 shots on goal.
This was the point that Arsenal needed to strike and draw blood from their opponent
Unfortunately the Gunners weren’t clinical enough, and failed to capitalise when the Spaniards went down to ten men. Atlético’s Šime Vrsaljko saw his double booking turn red only ten minutes into the match which sent Atlético’s entire squad and their coaching staff into a furore. The Spaniards lost their composure and manager Diego Simeone was promptly sent to the stands. This was the point that Arsenal needed to strike and draw blood from their opponent, to build a comfortable lead to go into the second leg. But they didn’t.
An uneasy, sinking feeling began to creep in when Arsenal repeatedly failed to finish, and ended up squandering many forward advances. It wasn’t until striker Alexandre Lacazette converted an exquisite Jack Wilshere cross on 61 minutes that the home crowd could latch on to something and will their side to push for more.
But it wasn’t to be. Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny failed to deal with an encroaching long ball, gifting Antoine Griezmann the chance to slot home a vital away goal eight minutes from time. Atlético now have an important away goal going into the tie and appear as clear favourites.
Arsenal have an uphill struggle to overcome in Madrid
Arsenal should be doubly worried. They have a shaky defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last seven matches. On top of that, Diego Costa started against Alavés at the weekend, and with Griezmann rested, the Spaniards’ attack looks to be back to full force. Arsenal have an uphill struggle to overcome in Madrid. They’ll have to find the of kind gall that has eluded them in major competitions for some time.
Arsenal are channeling that team spirit
Salzburg vs. Marseille (0-2) (Thursday 3 May, 20:05 BST)
Marseille journey to Salzburg with a two-goal advantage after stifling the Austrians at home and denying them an away goal.
Dimitri Payet was the architect of Marseille’s victory in the first leg, providing assists for both goals. On 15 minutes Florian Thauvin connected with a perfectly lofted Payet free kick that controversially appeared to come off his hand after he headed the ball.
In the second half Payet was there once again to slot in super sub Clinton Njie in what must have been one of his first touches in the game.
The Austrians are this year's comeback kings
Marseille were the most offensive team in the first leg, but the Austrians have a few tricks up their sleeve. The Austrians are closing in on a fifth successive domestic championship, but they've already won a title – this year’s comeback kings. They managed to overturn a 4-2 deficit against Lazio in the last round to win 4-1 at home and surge through 6-5 on aggregate.
This Salzburg side looks like it was made for a dogfight
Star man Payet is well aware of what their opponents are capable of. In his post match interview he heeded caution, saying: “We have been warned. There have been some complete turnarounds and we need to take the return leg very seriously.” The midfield maestro is right, Marseille will have to be on their toes at the Red Bull Arena. This Salzburg side looks like it was made for a dogfight.