The Gunners head to Spain for the face-off against Atletico Madrid hoping to avoid ending Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign as coach of the London club in a whimper. Thursday’s game could prove to be pivotal in deciding how Arsenal’s season ends and also how Wenger’s desire to give Arsenal fans an European silverware and Champions League qualification as a parting gift pans out.
Arsenal’s Premier League ambitions have long ended in disappointment like it has been in the last few years, and Wenger’s charges are currently sixth on the league table with a top-four finish out of sight. The Gunners only route into next season Uefa Champions League is by winning the Europa League and Atletico Madrid is the next hurdle the Gunners must cross to achieve that dream.
Arsene Wenger’s men could not capitalise on a one-man advantage for the majority of the first leg at the Emirates and the 1-1 scoreline means that Arsenal must score at the Wanda Metropolitano, a venue in which Los Rojiblancos have not conceded in 12 matches across all competitions dating back to January.
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It’s no news that Arsenal was completely dominant in the 1st leg of the Europa League semi-final at the Emirate stadium, but could not take their chances. Atletico’s goal stopper Jan Oblak was partly the reason why the score was 1-1 as he pulled off some incredible saves to keep the Gunners at bay, even when the Gunners managed to get the much-needed goal, they could not preserve the lead as a defensive error from Laurent Koscielny in the 81st minute allowed Antoine Griezmann to score a precious away goal.
Arsene Wenger has some injury worries, he is hopeful of having Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Alex Iwobi (thigh), David Ospina (chest) and Sead Kolasinc (ankle) fit enough to be in the squad to play Los Rojiblancos on Thursday.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan returned to full fitness earlier than expected, he started against Mourinho’s men and scored Arsenal’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to United at Old Trafford last Sunday. David Ospina will start in goal as he is Arsene Wenger’s preferred goalkeeper in Cup competitions.
Diego Costa started his first match for Atletico Madrid in three weeks at the weekend against Alaves and should start in the second leg, Sime Vrsaljko is suspended after his red card from the first leg.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Gimenez, Godin, Savic, Hernandez; Koke, Gabi, Saul Niguez, Correa; Costa, Griezmann
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey; Ozil, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette
Los Rojiblancos will go into the game as favourites, they boast of an impressive home record and a very mean defensive set-up. It will take something special for Arsenal to cross this hurdle, they must be coordinated at the back and also take their chances when it comes. However, we feel Arsenal will not be able to beat Atletico at home, the best that the Gunners can hope for is a draw. Our prediction is Atletico Madrid to win.