Keeping Griezmann quiet holds the key to Arsenal's Europa League hopes at Atletico Madrid

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Equaliser: Antoine Griezmann levelled things up at the Emirates.

Atletico Madrid and Arsenal clash in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday night (11:05pm GST), following last week’s 1-1 draw in North London.

Both sides have talent all over the pitch but here, we have narrowed down the all-important tactical match-ups that could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the contest.

Get in touch with your thoughts on the game, too, via Twitter and Facebook.

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Antoine Griezmann v Alexandre Lacazette

Whether or not Griezmann remains in the Spanish capital next season (providing he doesn’t sign for Real Madrid) is up in the air, but having publicly admitted he will make a call on his future after the World Cup in Russia – speculation hasn’t affected his form.

He posed a persistent problem for Arsenal’s defence last week, netting a valuable equalising away goal, while also mustering three other efforts, all of which were on target. 27 goals in all competitions this term is a decent return for a man who started the campaign very sluggishly.

On home soil, he is the man with the magic for the hosts. Griezmann has plundered six goals in his past four run-outs at the Wanda Metropolitano and the visitors can forget their Europa League dream if he isn’t contained.

Griezmann’s compatriot, Alexandre Lacazette – the man he could play alongside for France this summer – has a huge responsibility on his shoulders given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied but he did seem to relish that extra weight in the first leg.

Although the physical test of coming up against Diego Godin made his assignment tough at the Emirates, the ex-Lyon hitman still managed to grab an important goal – his fourth in three matches.

He registered eight shots on goal last week and made five key passes, demonstrating once again that he is Arsenal’s best hope in this one but only if his team-mates can find him with ball to feet and intricate play around the box.

Ready for the fight: Alexandre Lacazette.

THE BATTLE IN THE MIDDLE

Gabi v Mesut Ozil

The bulk of Arsenal’s play went through the cultured German in the first leg, and while Jack Wilshere bagged the assist for Lacazette’s opener, the ex-Real Madrid playmaker was a constant thorn in Atleti’s side.

On Thursday night, the away side will need to pick out their highest-paid player at every opportunity. Last week, Ozil often split the defensive shield of Thomas Partey and Saul Niguez with as many as six key passes. Veteran Gabi, who came off the bench late on in that fixture, will start this time and stand on Ozil’s toes in Madrid. Saul and Koke can also offer younger legs to get about the pitch and restrict his influence.

Despite his advancing years at 34, club captain Gabi is still the chief lieutenant among Diego Simeone’s ranks and has that ability to create hustle and bustle in the middle and ultimately swing the game in Atletico’s favour. The engine room is likely to be cramped for room and the hosts need someone to garner more possession of the ball, having had just 24 per cent of it at the Emirates.

Their passing success rate, at just 67 per cent in the first leg, is a number that needs to be higher and Gabi is a man who can make things tick, using all of his experience.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Jack Wilshere of Arsenal is challenged by Angel Correa and Gabi of Atl?tico Madrid during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final leg one match between Arsenal FC and Atletico Madrid at Emirates Stadium on April 26, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Gabi came on late in the game in North London.

THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE

Diego Godin v Laurent Koscielny

Godin’s sheer presence in the backline serves as the main identifier to what this Atleti team is all about. The Uruguayan was everywhere in the first leg, making nine clearances, blocking three goalbound shots and putting his body on the line, as ever, for three last-ditch tackles.

Godin has begun to form a formidable central defence partnership with international team-mate Jose Gimenez, with the former leading the bullish youngster in what is a tough Atleti defence to breach. Indeed, the fact the hosts have conceded just four home goals in La Liga all season and not lost a European fixture in their own backyard in 17 matches, can be attributed to the consistency of Godin and his defensive colleagues.

For Arsenal skipper Koscielny, the story has been a bit different. The 32-year-old will no doubt still be having nightmares from last Thursday. Griezmann shrugged off his fellow Frenchman with ease to slot Atleti’s equaliser and that added further credence to those who believe Arsenal need a real shake-up in defence next season.

Failure to keep Griezmann quiet again is likely to prove fatal. While it’s not just down to Koscielny, with Shkodran Mustafi needing arguably his biggest performance in an Arsenal shirt to date, the spotlight is on the long-term Arsenal star following that gaffe.

Atletico Madrid's French striker Antoine Griezmann (L) vies with Arsenal's French defender Laurent Koscielny on his way to scoring their first goal during the UEFA Europa League first leg semi-final football match between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 26, 2018. - The game finished 1-1. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Laurent Koscielny tussles with compatriot Antoine Griezmann.

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Arsenal need to banish away day blues against Atletico Madrid at fortress Wanda Metropolitano

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Draw at the Emirates: Antoine Griezmann was on target.

Atletico Madrid and Arsenal go head-to-head again on Thursday night (11:05pm GST) for a place in this season’s Europa League final.

The two European heavyweights drew 1-1 at the Emirates last week, with Antoine Griezmann‘s late leveller cancelling out Alexandre Lacazette’s opener on 60 minutes. Atleti also finished the match with 10 men after Sime Vrsaljko was given his marching orders.

The Gunners will be determined to book their place in this month’s final to be hosted in Lyon and send departing manager Arsene Wenger off on a high.

Ligue 1 side Marseille are likely to be the team in waiting there, given the fact the Olympians carry a 2-0 lead into their second leg against Red Bull Salzburg.

Here, though, we look at the key stats ahead of the second-leg clash in the Spanish capital.

MATCH FACTS

ATLETICO MADRID

Incredibly, last week’s first leg in London was the first-ever competitive clash between the two sides. Their only previous meeting was in the 2009 Emirates Cup, where two late Andrey Arshavin goals handed the hosts a 2-1 win.

There were doubts that Atleti may take some time to make their new Wanda Metropolitano home a fortress but it has become just that. Diego Simeone’s side have kept clean sheets in each of their last 11 home matches. They have won 11 of those games.

Should the Spanish side advance, the final later this month in Lyon will be the club’s third appearance in the Europa League final. That would mean Atleti level La Liga rivals Sevilla (three) for most final outings in the competition, and they are also bidding for a record-equalling third trophy.

Once again, Atleti will be reliant on leading talisman Griezmann to do the business at the top of the pitch – despite speculation over his long-term future. The France international enjoys playing against English opponents and has scored three in his last five matches against sides from the Premier League.

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Europa League first leg semi-final football match between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 26, 2018. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / IKIMAGES / AFP) (Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Arsenal end Arsene Wenger’s tenure on a high?

ARSENAL

The Gunners will need to improve their miserable away form if they are to get a positive result, with Wenger’s men having won just two of their last 12 fixtures away from the Emirates in all competitions.

However, on the previous two occasions when Arsenal have drawn the opening leg of a European semi-final tie, the north London club have gone on to reach the final (Cup Winners Cup in 1979-80 and 1993-94).

Nevertheless, Arsenal have never won a European trophy under Arsene Wenger and have lost two previous finals under the Frenchman, the UEFA Cup (2000) and Champions League final (2006).

The Premier League side will need to show a greater cutting edge in front of goal on Thursday in a match where they have to score. 28 shots were fired in the first leg but just eight of them were on target.

On their past six European visits to Spain, Arsenal have failed to win (D2, L4), with their last success coming courtesy of Thierry Henry’s famous strike at the Bernabeu in a 1-0 victory back in 2006.

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Real Madrid hold off Bayern Munich to edge into third straight Champions League final

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Benzema celebrates his second

Real Madrid are within touching distance of a third consecutive Champions League triumph after Karim Benzema scored twice to eliminate Bayern Munich on Tuesday and book their place in the final.

Bayern, who trailed 2-1 following last week’s opening leg in Germany, looked capable of inflicting this season’s latest European comeback when Joshua Kimmich scored early and James Rodriguez levelled shortly after the hour.

But Benzema’s double in between, the first a header, the second a simple finish following a dreadful error from Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, proved enough as Real hung on for a 2-2 draw, and a 4-3 win on aggregate.

Benzema’s two goals here were another feather in the cap for coach Zinedine Zidane, who had decided to start the French striker, despite only one goal in his previous 12 games.

It was another brave call from Real’s coach, who now stands on the brink of history himself, with Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley the only other managers to have ever won Europe’s premier competition three times.

Liverpool or Roma will certainly offer a stern test in Kiev later this month but, having now seen off Bayern, the German champions, Paris Saint-Germain, the French champions, and Juventus, who sit top of Serie A, the feeling is that a 13th European success is now Real’s to lose.

Zidane sprung a surprise by dropping Casemiro to the bench and bringing the more mobile Mateo Kovacic into midfield while Lucas Vazquez played in the unfamiliar role of right back.

It meant no place again in the starting line-up for Gareth Bale, who was named as a substitute for the fifth time in six knock-out matches.

Bayern, meanwhile, were without a host of star players, with Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben, Jerome Boateng, Kingsley Coman and Manuel Neuer all injured. Martinez was fit enough to make the bench.

Kimmich had given Bayern the lead after 28 minutes at the Allianz Arena and here he did it in three, slamming home after Sergio Ramos poked Corentin Tolisso’s cross straight to his feet.

Real were rattled, their fans tetchy, and if Bayern had held on for longer the pressure might have told. Instead, the home side were level by the 11th minute, Benzema peeling free of David Alaba at the back post and heading in.

Marcelo and Toni Kroos both weaved their way into Bayern’s six-yard box, but failed to pick a final pass, while at the other end, Vazquez was enduring a torrid time at right back.

After another ball was threaded inside the winger’s left shoulder, Robert Lewandowski unleashed and James should have scored but was unable to adjust his body to the follow-up.

A breathless opening 45 minutes ended with Bayern wanting a penalty as the ball struck Marcelo on the arm but referee Cuneyt Cakir waved away the appeals.

Real were certainly the more relieved to hear the half-time whistle but they were given a gift shortly after the restart.

Tolisso’s backpass was misjudged and underhit but Ulreich still had the chance to clear. Instead, the keeper got his feet in a tangle and ended up in a heap on the floor, presenting Benzema with an open net.

The game looked finished but Bayern came again and after 10 minutes of desperate Real defending, it was no surprise when they scored.

James chased down his own rebound before beating Keylor Navas at the near post. The on-loan Colombian chose not to celebrate against his parent club.

Bayern had 27 minutes to find a third and there were a handful of near misses. Thomas Muller was denied by Navas and Mats Hummels headed agonisingly wide in injury time, but Real held on for their fourth final in five years.

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