North London heavyweights Arsenal play host to Spanish hotshots Atletico Madrid at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday in what will be Arsene Wenger’s last-ever European home game in charge of the Gunners.
The Premier League side heads into the Europa League semi-finals off the back of an emotional week which saw manager Arsene Wenger announce his decision to step down from his post at the end of the season.
Heavily criticized over the past couple of seasons, the Frenchman has now decided it was the right time to leave the club but now even his most vociferous critics are experiencing mixed emotions over such an announcement. There is a general feeling Wenger mistimed his decision but he will be hoping that Arsenal players will now be more eager than ever to win the competition for their departing boss. Midfielder Granit Xhaka has already challenged his teammates to win it as a ‘special’ gift for Wenger. The Gunners have experienced mixed results over the past couple of weeks but will be keen to build on a compelling 4-1 win over West Ham which saw Alexander Lacazette rediscover his scoring touch following a knee surgery. The Frenchman scored a brace and will be the one to lead the team forward against the resilient Spaniards who could prove to be a tough nut to crack for injury-depleted Gunners.
Midfielder Mohamed Elneny is out of contention due to an ankle ligament damage, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is recovering from a knee problem.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible whereas Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil are huge selection doubts.
La Liga high-flyers Atletico Madrid have injury concerns of their own heading into the match in London and Diego Simeone has already announced he could make a couple of tactical tweaks to adjust his team for the impending challenge.
Los Colchineros have won only one of their last five matches and travel to England on the back of a disappointing 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad and a frustrating goalless stalemate against Betis at home, respectively. Atletico Madrid had a relatively straightforward path to the semi-finals, having knocked out Copenhagen, Lokomotiv Moscow and Sporting Lisbon to earn their place in the semis. The first-ever competitive encounter with Arsenal will be a different kind of a test however. A disciplined and tightly-packed unit as they are, Atletico Madrid could opt to go with three men in the back at the Emirates, knowing that Simeone will only have five defenders at his disposal for the Thursday match. And with probably just 14 outfield players to choose from, the temperamental tactician will try to keep it organized at the back, aiming for a clean sheet at the Emirates.
Filipe Luis suffered a broken leg against Lokomotiv Moscow in March and remains sidelines, whereas another defender Juanfran will miss both legs against the Gunners due to a thigh injury.
Diego Simeone said former Chelsea striker Diego Costa had no chances of playing against Arsenal but the Spanish forward is still included in the squad and could be one of the surprises Atletico Madrid boss is preparing for his London rivals.
Key Factors to Consider
- Arsenal could be without up to six first-team stars for the crucial first leg against Atletico
- This is the first-ever competitive encounter between the two sides
- Atletico Madrid only won one of their last five matches in all competitions
- Alexander Lacazette scored a brace for Arsenal last time out
- Gunners lost only one of their last 9 matches in all competitions
Arsenal and Atletico Madrid lock horns in their first-ever European battle and stakes could not be higher for both sides who will miss several key members of the first team. Gunners are particularly motivated to try and move forward to the final as they want to win the competition for their departing boss but Diego Simeone’s men are the force to be reckoned with.