Arsenal 1 Atletico Madrid 1: Antoine Griezmann cancels Alexandre Lacazette goal in Europa League semi-final stalemate
Antoine Griezmann, slipping silently through Arsenal’s defence after 83 minutes, provided the brutal, excruciating reminder.
Atletico Madrid, down to ten men and without their coach Diego Simeone after he was sent off, did a number on Arsenal.
He scored the equaliser, evading the sliding challenges of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi to score a crucial away goal.
It was a belting finish, lifted into the roof of David Ospina’s net seven minutes from the end of this fiery first leg.
They are still level on aggregate, but everybody at the Emirates knows they need the miracle of Madrid now.
Wenger lost his way years ago and so did his team. It is a shame because Arsenal worked so hard to establish a 61st minute lead given to them by Alexandre Lacazette.
This being Arsenal, against stellar European opposition, they could not hold on to it.
DIE-GONE Simeone sent to the stands in Atletico's draw with Arsenal
Lacazette separated these two warring clubs when he headed Arsenal’s goal beyond Jan Oblak after 61 angsty minutes.
The goal lifted the Emirates, with the fans running up and down stairwells celebrating Lacazette’s strike.
For a time, they wondered whether it would ever come. Atletico were a man down after 10 minutes, one short for the rest of this first leg after right back Sime Vrsaljko was sent off.
Everybody’s gameplan went out of the window after that. That nutjob Simeone, with steam coming out of his ears on the touchline, followed Vrsaljko down the tunnel three minutes later
Simeone had given French referee Clement Turpin a mouthful, giving him a gutful from the sidelines for a full three minutes after Vrsaljko’s dismissal.
After that, Atletico and their players disgraced themselves. They tried to turn this into a masterclass in the dark arts and for a long time, Arsenal could not do a thing about it.
Diego Godin, the captain, conducted it all from his position at the centre of Atletico’s defence. He was one of the first to go down, creating a domino effect all over the pitch.
The slightest contact and down they went, clutching leg, groin, chest or face. It was pitiful from top class professionals.
Atletico Madrid did not play by the rules. They played the system. Those yellow shirted scoundrels did everything they could get away with to stop Arsenal settling into a match-winning rhythm.
Godin, Griezmann and Angel Correa all went down in that fiery, feisty first half. Such a shame to behave like that in a game as big as this.
For that alone, Arsenal deserved better. They had the big match intensity, playing at full throttle from the moment Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey started to knock the ball about.
Wilshere was chopped early on, taken clean out after two minutes when Vrsalko went into the book.
What followed next was a steady stream of first half chances for Arsenal. Lacazette hit the outside of the post, steering the effort on to the woodwork when he connected with Danny Welbeck’s cross.
Oblak, Atletico’s highly-rated keeper, saved point blank from the Arsenal forward the Nacho Monreal swung in a cross from the left.
He got there in the end, scoring just after the hour. Arsenal were up for this, determined to establish a first leg lead in Wenger’s final European home game.
When Simeone was sent off after 13 minutes – when Turpin failed to give a free kick when Hector Bellerin was running around rattling cages – Atletico were all over the shop.
Oblak had to save with his legs again and Laurent Koscielny failed to connect properly at the far post when Aaron Ramsey flicked a corner on.
By then the game was spiralling out of control. Lacazette demanded a penalty when Godin touched him inside the area, nudging the Arsenal forward when he was twisting and turning his way towards goal.
Everybody in an Arsenal shirt was getting a go at this. Ozil and Ramsey combined next, clearing the way for Monreal to shoot from the far post, but he volleyed wide of Oblak’s goal.
Thing is, the more frustrated Arsenal became, the more Atletico grew into it.
Griezmann finally made a meaningful contribution, forcing a decent save out of David Ospina just after half an hour.
That was the warning. His finish seven minutes from time was too good for Arsenal, the mark of a player with quality and pedigree at the highest level of the game.
Wenger, with all his experience at the highest level in Europe, knows what comes next.
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