Arsene Wenger wants to end Arsenal 'love story' well and win Europa League

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Arsene Wenger is seeking the best end to his Arsenal “love story” as he takes his side to Atletico Madrid looking to reach the Europa League final.

This semi-final tie is well-poised following a 1-1 first-leg draw at the Emirates Stadium last week, with the visitors equalising late on having played for 80 minutes with 10 men.

Wenger will bring the curtain down on a tenure lasting over 21 years when he departs Arsenal in the summer.

Following another disappointing Premier League campaign and with the Gunners set to finish six, their worst-ever position under the Frenchman, the Europa League has taken on huge significance in recent weeks.

Not only is it a chance for Wenger to end his reign with a maiden piece of European silverware but it would mean securing a return to the Champions League for next season and the new manager.

Wenger has yet to be drawn on what he will do when he steps down, but insists he will give everything to Arsenal until he leaves as he wants a good ending to his long association with the club.

“I don’t know what I will do next season,” he said.

“At the minute I think I would like to finish well my job. I believe a man has to give his best as long as he is somewhere, with all my commitment and energy I would like to walk out of Arsenal one day and think until the last day I focused only on Arsenal.

“When my job is finished at Arsenal I will see where I go from there but I want to finish this love story well.”

Arsenal need to score at least once at the Wanda Metropolitano if they are to have any chance of reaching the final in Lyon later this month.

That will be a tough ask given Diego Simeone’s Atletico have not conceded at home in 11 games and have lost just three times at their new home since taking up residency in September.

“The history has to stop somewhere,” Wenger replied when asked about the sizeable task at hand.

“That is what we will try to do. In the first game we created chances, that is why we want to create the situation where we created many chances but we didn’t manage to put them in the net.

“We have to keep the same commitment, not focus too much on the way we play. Just how we attack and build the game up from the back.”

Diego Costa (C) speaks with teammates

Scoring will be one challenge but keeping Atleti at bay will also prove a tough test, especially if fit-again Diego Costa is included for the hosts.

The former Chelsea forward proved a scourge of Arsenal during his time in England, scoring three times in six games against Wenger’s team and often proving more than a thorn in the side of the defence.

He was an unused substitute in London last week as he recovered from a thigh injury but played over an hour in Sunday’s LaLiga win over Alaves.

“In history he has shown he can make the difference,” conceded Wenger.

“He played in England and was very successful. It is our job to keep him quiet. maybe the way is not to play too much in our half and to play more in the half of Atletico Madrid.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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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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