A goal from Diego Costa ended Arsenal and Arsène Wenger’s UEFA Europa League dream, with Atlético Madrid reaching yet another European final with a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Like in the first leg, Arsenal had plenty of chances throughout the match, despite a massive blow early on when Laurent Koscielny was stretchered off with a bad Achilles injury.
Costa came back to haunt them though just before the break, and the Gunners were unable to find an equaliser, leaving Wenger without a shot at one final trophy before ending his long reign as manager.
Costa strikes bitter blow before half-time
Arsenal had dominated the first leg after the early sending off of Sime Vrsaljko, with Alexandre Lacazette finally putting them ahead, before Antoine Griezmann equalised with a late away goal to just about give Atlético the edge coming into this match. The Gunners were unchanged from that game, but the hosts made three changes, with Vitolo, Gabi and Arsenal’s nemesis from his Chelsea days, Costa, coming in. Vrsaljko was joined in the stands by Diego Simeone, after he too was giving his marching ordered in north London.
Simeone’s men started the more confidently, with Costa having a big early chance to put them ahead. He was far too strong for both Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, but David Ospina did enough to force him to shoot wide. That was followed by awful scenes as Koscielny fell to ground off the ball, tearing his troublesome Achilles. He was clearly in a lot of distress and had to be stretchered off, with his season surely over and a FIFA World Cup campaign with France gone too.
Despite the loss of their captain, who was replaced by Calum Chambers, Arsenal did not panic. They held firm at the back, with Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi dealing well with Atlético’s attacking threat, despite one or two nervy moments. Going forward, they only had half chances. The best was when a ball from Aaron Ramsey found Lacazette, but the French striker did pull the trigger and forced himself into too tight an angle. Ramsey then had a shot blocked in the same passage of play.
As the half progressed, Atlético became more of a danger. A shot from Thomas Partey, saved by Ospina, would in vain as the whistle had already gone for a foul, but Arsenal were lucky when Koke volleyed wide, before a free-kick found Griezmann, who took a touch, turned and struck wide as well, with Chambers lucky the ball didn’t take an unfortunate deflection off him towards goal.
0-0 at half-time would have suited Atlético fine, but in the three minutes added on as a result of the Koscielny injury, they took the lead. Chambers got his head to a Jan Oblak goal kick, only for Partey to get to it. Arsenal’s defensive shape was non-existent as Grizemann sublimely passed to Costa, who held off Bellerín to score. Arsenal were 45 minutes from going out of Europe, but in a sense they still only needed one goal, at least.
Arsenal have chances in open second half but don’t find a goal
Atlético started the second half on the front foot, with Costa heading a corner into the hands of Ospina and a Koke shot drifting wide. But Arsenal then signalled their own intentions as Ramsey had their best chance yet. A free-kick wasn’t adequately cleared by the home defence, with Jack Wilsehre putting the ball back into the box. It fell to Ramsey, but surrounded by defenders, it didn’t quite fall for him and he put it wide.
Costa had the chance to inflict further misery on Arsenal when he turned Mustafi in the box but Chambers put his body on the line to block him. Grizemann then threatened with a free-kick, but it curled wide. Mesut Özil then came into the game more now with two dangerous crosses, but neither came of them as Diego Godín cleared one and the other went unmet across the face of goal. Granit Xhaka’s shot from outside the box was then put wide by Oblak - it would prove their only shot on target.
The game was wide open by this point. Arsenal substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan hit a thunderous shot just over the bar, whilst either side of that Griezmann could have scored after a Costa cut-back but Ospina made the save, before he was well-tackled at the last moment by Xhaka.
Increasingly though, it was becoming one-way traffic, as Arsenal defended for their lives to keep themselves in the tie whilst also beginning to tire. A lot of the game was now being played in their half with Fernando Torres, who replaced Costa, had a shot kept out by Ospina. Arsenal pushed forward again as the three added minutes approached, but the final ball, as it had been all night, was lacking in the crucial moments.
Simeone’s side have been here so often before though, and they did what they had to do to maintain the record of reaching a European final every two years during the reign of the Argentinian maverick. Wenger would have wanted to end his 22 years at Arsenal with a final in Lyon in 13 days’ time, however instead the curtain will fall at Huddersfield Town three days earlier, as Arsenal exit in the semi. Unlike at other times this season, they didn’t disgrace themselves over the two legs, ultimately going out to two typically-sloppy goals.