A late Antoine Griezmann goal denied Arsenal a fairy tale victory as the Gunners were held 1-1 by the La Liga side in a entertaining Europa League game.
After a first half that saw what seemed like a thousand chances for Arsenal following the sending offs of Sime Vrsaljko and manager Diego Simeone, the Gunners were finally able to break the deadlock just past the hour mark as Alexandre Lacazette’s leaping header squeezed past Jan Oblak to give Arsenal the lead
The Atlético renowned for their defensive masterclasses and aggressive pressing simply did not turn up tonight. Instead we saw a side on the back foot from minute one. And the noise and atmosphere from the Arsenal fans made it a hostile environment for the visiting side, a first for any club playing away at the Emirates.
All was going well for the Gunners, until a flurry of mistakes at the back allowed Griezmann to slip in through on goal, and punish Arsenal with a late goal that now makes Arsène Wenger’s Europa League and Champions League send off a nigh impossible task.
A game set from kick-off
Lacazette could have given the Gunners the perfect start in a packed Emirates Stadium that was in full voice. Danny Welbeck lofted the ball to the Frenchman inside the penalty area but the inform striker’s shot flew wide of the goal.
The summer signing from Olympique Lyonnais again had a chance to give Arsenal the lead when Nacho Monreal’s accurate cross found the head of Lacazette in the penalty area, but a wondersave from Oblak denied the striker from giving Arsenal the lead eight minutes in.
A double sending off for Atleti
Arsenal’s confidence was sky high, and the hosts confidence only grew bigger as 10 minutes in Atlético defender Vrsaljko was sent off for a second bookable offence after a rash challenge on Lacazette, earning the right back the infamous honour of the fifth-fasted sending off in the competition’s history.
Things got worse for the Madrid club as their manager, Simeone, was next to be sent off by Clement Turpin after the visiting manager was sent to the stands after the Argentine gave the referee some scorching words following a foul on Héctor Bellerín near the touchline.
Arsenal press for the opener
From the moment the kick-off whistle blew Atlético were on the back foot. The 2013/14 La Liga champions had been tipped to be the favourites to lift the Europa League, but their first half displaying showed anything but champions mentality.
Arsenal out paced them, out defended them, and out played them in every area of the pitch, but the only thing Wenger’s side couldn’t do was find the back of the net.
Laurent Koscielny, Welbeck and Monreal all had chances to open the scoring for the hosts, but all of their efforts were either well wide or easily dealt with by Oblak.
10-man Atlético fight back
Despite the countless amounts of pressure from the Gunners and missing a man in midfield after Thomas Partey moved into the now vacant right-back spot, Atleti began to gain their mojo back.
Their rock solid defence, the foundation their entire tactic is based around, was doing its job to quench any Arsenal attacks, and their prolific number seven, Griezmann, was finally starting to see some chances go his way, but David Ospina did well to save all that came his way going into halftime.
A second half of boring minutes
15 minutes into the second half, and nothing. Pure nothingness occurred, which is exactly what Atlético wanted from the restart. An Atleti side with no Simeone on the touchline were looking to see the game out as soon as the restart whistle blew as the visiting side made it hard for Arsenal to find space in the final third whilst also providing zero attacking threat.
And although the Arsenal fans were fired up for the occasion, a first for many a year, their players on the pitch could not break down the Atlético defence that had the so dangerous and so renowned in the world of football.
Then, Lacazette struck.
Lacazette draws first blood
Arsenal had continued to pressure Atlético for most of the second half, though most of their efforts were easily defused by the defence with any real chances coming from high crosses into the area. And that’s exactly how Lacazette gave the Gunners the lead.
Wilshere beautifully danced and jibbed his way through the Madrid defence, and as he met his way to the by-line the England international whipped in a perfect cross to Lacazette, and the striker leapt high in the hair and headed in the opening goal past Oblak to give Arsenal a deserved lead.
Griezmann hits back
If anybody was going to score a second goal, it was going to be Arsenal. The Gunners had been pressing for the second goal that would have given them a huge advantage going into the Wanda Stadium next week.
Griezmann, though, had other plans. Out of nowhere, the Frenchman was through on goal. The striker was able to slip in to face Ospina from a dead ball that seemed to appear like magic via a comedy of errors from Arsenal.
The French international’s initial effort was denied by Ospina, but the ball spun back to the striker, and with a powerful strike past a falling Shkodran Mustafi, Griezmann nabbed a vital away goal for the visiting team.
Arsenal tried to get back into the game, but the atmosphere and energy from the home fans had all but disappeared, with the only noise being heard from the away supporters.
Aaron Ramsey’s last-ditch shot to give Arsenal an upper hand in the leg was again remarkably saved by Oblak, and Wenger’s side now face a tough challenge if they are to make it to the Europa League final in Lyon.