Soft underbelly haunts Arsenal again

Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann evading a challenge by Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi's to net his 82nd-minute equaliser. The second leg will be played in Madrid next Thursday.
Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann evading a challenge by Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi's to net his 82nd-minute equaliser. The second leg will be played in Madrid next Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Outgoing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger lamented a familiar defensive lapse as his side failed to cash in on a manpower advantage for over 80 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday.

Antoine Griezmann's away goal eight minutes from time is a body blow to Wenger's hopes of bowing out after 22 years on a high in the final on May 16, and to Arsenal's chances of playing Champions League football next season.

The striker out-muscled France team-mate Laurent Koscielny and then benefited from a slip by Shkodran Mustafi after his initial effort had been saved by David Ospina.

Sime Vrsaljko's early red card handed the Gunners the initiative, but they were made to rue a host of missed chances before and after Alexandre Lacazette headed them in front on the hour.

"We could have qualified tonight but it didn't happen," Wenger said after watching his side have 76 per cent of the ball at the Emirates Stadium. "Looking at the performance and the way the game went, it was the worst possible result for us.

"It feels like an opportunity missed. It is a story we have seen before. We created the anti-climax by giving a goal away. The whole thing went wrong in the end."

The hosts registered 28 shots, eight of which were on target. Atletico took just six shots but found the target five times.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone was sent to the stands shortly after Vrsaljko's dismissal, but the LaLiga side resisted manfully and the manager hailed their resistance.

"You don't have any idea how hard it is to defend and defend and defend," said Simeone. "You have to have (courage) to defend for more than 80 minutes like that. These players of Atletico Madrid are heroes to resist like that.

"The team responded to the red card with some fantastic defensive work and I think that will go down in the history of Atletico Madrid."

Arsenal will now need to summon one of their best performances in recent memory at the Wanda Metropolitano next week.

Atletico have conceded just four times at home in LaLiga this season. The last time they conceded a goal at home was on Jan 20.

With a top-four berth practically out of reach in the Premier League, Wenger will be focused on which players will feature in the Spanish capital four days after their visit to Old Trafford tomorrow.

"It is half-time. We cannot be too disappointed," said Gunners midfielder Jack Wilshere. "We created a lot of chances. If we create chances and put them away, then we have got a chance."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Soft underbelly haunts Arsenal again'. Print Edition | Subscribe