Diego Costa ends Wenger’s hopes of a glorious Arsenal exit
Spanish striker’s goal late in the first half puts Spanish side into Europa League final
Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa celebrates scoring their goal in the Europa League semi-final second leg against Arsenal at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters
Atletico Madrid 1 Arsenal 0 (Atletico win 2-1 on agg)
For Arsène Wenger, there will be no happy ending. Diego Simeone’s team are, as promised, on their way to the Europa League final and Wenger’s long goodbye will reach its climax without the final chapter he desperately wanted to be written into the story.
All that is left now is Sunday’s game against Burnley – his farewell to the Emirates – and the trip to Huddersfield the following weekend and perhaps it is typical of Arsenal’s decline since his peak years that it should end this way. Arsenal came up short, as they often do against elite opposition, and Atlético were too worldly for them once Diego Costa had given the home side a 2-1 aggregate lead late in the first half.
This was Atlético’s 12th successive match at this stadium when they have not conceded a goal – an incredible run that goes back to January 20th and covers 1,097 minutes in play – and that parsimonious defending, ultimately, was the difference between the two sides over the two legs. Atlético were brilliantly efficient at the back and, unfortunately for Wenger, the same is rarely said of his team.
On top of everything else Arsenal also lost Laurent Koscielny to injury that meant they had to play all but the opening seven minutes without their captain. Koscielny, who has been nursing a long-standing Achilles problem, went down in such a way the seriousness of the situation immediately became apparent. He was in distress, pounding the turf in agony and frustration, and it was difficult not to think there will be ramifications for France, too. Koscielny was supposed to retire from international football after the World Cup; instead, his involvement in Russia looks doubtful.
For Arsenal, that meant an unexpected appearance for Calum Chambers to fill in alongside Shkodran Mustafi with the task of trying to subdue Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann. That was never going to be straightforward and the two Atlético forwards combined brilliantly at the end of the first half, in the time added on for Koscielny’s four minutes of treatment, to give Diego Simeone’s team the lead.
The goal showed the qualities of both players. Griezmann’s pass was beautifully weighted and once Costa had got behind Héctor Bellerín it was always going to be difficult for the Arsenal right back to make up for his positional error. Bellerín might have been faster but Costa was stronger, shielding the ball with his body while expertly holding out an arm to keep his opponent a safe distance away. David Ospina, who had a nervous opening 45 minutes, advanced from his line and Costa swept the ball past Arsenal’s goalkeeper with a confident left-foot finish.
Until the point the Arsenal supporters, positioned in the most vertiginous levels of this sweeping new-build stadium, must have been pleasantly surprised by the way their team had been playing. All the same, they had a lot of the ball on the edge of the Atlético penalty area without being able to conjure up a clear shooting opportunity.
Alexandre Lacazette let himself down with a heavy touch on the one occasion in that period when the home side looked vulnerable and, though Atlético do not play with the finesse or style of Real Madrid and Barcelona, they are never flustered when the other team attack in numbers. In 35 games in La Liga this season, Simeone’s team have conceded only 18 goals – and, to put that in perspective, it is under half the number Real, the Champions League finalists, have let in.
Arsenal, on the other hand, arrived on the back of their worst sequence of away results, six successive defeats in the Premier League, since 1966, leaving them as the only team in England’s four divisions not to win a solitary point on their travels since the turn of the year. They needed something special – and an away goal at this stadium is exactly that – and had little choice but to press forward after the break.
They were attacking the end where the Arsenal supporters were gathered and there were some encouraging moments early in the second half. Granit Xhaka’s low shot brought the first noteworthy save from Jan Oblak and there were even a few moments of carelessness from the home team’s defenders.
Mesut Özil’s influence was growing. Bellerín’s surging runs from right back were another feature and, midway through the half, Wenger brought on Henrikh Mkhitaryan to increase their attacking threat at the expense of Jack Wilshere.
Still, though, Arsenal struggled to create a clear chance. There was only one goal in it but the onslaught that might have been anticipated late on never materialised and it was a feeble end to Wenger’s 250th European game. – Guardian service