MADRID • Arsene Wenger was left devastated by Arsenal's Europa League semi-final second-leg loss to Atletico Madrid on Thursday but made a staunch defence of midfielder Mesut Ozil.
Ozil was criticised by former Arsenal defender Martin Keown, who said the German had cried "crocodile tears" after the game and was "not fit to wear the shirt".
Diego Costa's strike earned Atletico a 1-0 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano and secured the Spanish side a 2-1 aggregate win and a place in the final against Marseille. Defeat ended Wenger's hopes of leaving Arsenal on a high and squandered their last chance to qualify for the Champions League.
"I'm very sad tonight," said the outgoing boss, who won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups with Arsenal but lost their only two European finals in 21 seasons - the 2000 Uefa Cup final to Galatasaray and the 2006 Champions League final to Barcelona.
"Unfortunately you have to go through that - the game can be very cruel, sometimes very nice, but the suffering is very strong tonight.
"Looking at the chances over the two games, the least we could say is we are very frustrated. The tie should have been over in the first game."
Atletico have 32 clean sheets in all competitions this season. No team in the top five European leagues have more.
Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in their last eight games in all competitions - their longest run without one since December 2016.
Arsenal dominated against 10-man Atletico in the first leg but scored only once before conceding a late goal to Antoine Griezmann.
It remains to be seen how another season without Champions League football will affect Arsenal's search both for a new manager and new signings this summer.
"I think there are some good ingredients in our team and they will bounce back," said Wenger, whose final game is at Huddersfield in the English Premier League on May 13.
"With the right additions in the summer, I think they can compete next year."
Keown was less optimistic and gave a harsh assessment of Ozil, who in 2013 was the club's £42.5 million (S$76.9 million) record signing from Real Madrid.
"He wasn't fit to wear the shirt tonight," Keown told BT Sport.
"I've seen this a lot this season and it needs to be said... We expect better from him. These are crocodile tears I'm seeing from the player. He's not conning me."
When those comments were put to Wenger, the Frenchman said: "We lose as a team... You will see that he gave a lot. It was a difficult team, physically very intense. I'm convinced that Ozil should not be criticised by anyone just because he did not score. We had plenty of opportunities and we lose as a team."
Arsenal's task was made more difficult by the loss of skipper Laurent Koscielny to a torn Achilles in the 12th minute. The France defender was stretchered off and is now a major doubt for the World Cup.
Costa punished the Gunners' backline at the end of the first half, bursting into the box to meet a pass from Griezmann before shrugging off Hector Bellerin and lifting the ball over goalkeeper David Ospina.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who led Atletico to the 2012 Europa League title, said: "We are delighted to be in the final, we've wanted to be back in a final ever since the last one.
"The side responded so well last week, they suffered... You need big players to stand up and be counted and the team were up there at that level."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS