Arsenal’s defeat to Atletico Madrid was predictable but the 2nd leg of the semifinal was the perfect illustration of how to take the initiative, gain an advantage and protect it. The Gunners came up against a well drilled, a cohesive defensive unit that you sensed were capable of avoiding the basic errors similar to those their opponents made in the first encounter.
Then Costa, so often the thorn in Arsenal’s side struck and effectively put the tie beyond doubt. Arsenal failed on a number of counts in this match, they had no real quality in their build-up play and when they got the opportunity to threaten, the final ball was poor.
The North London club’s defence was exposed again to another long hoof upfield and yet again the attempted clearance was poor. Diego Costa, the bullying and bruising nemesis of Arsenal on numerous occasions, was at least three yards to the good in front of Hector Bellerin in the dying moments of the first 45.
Although the Spaniard tried to cover the distance, Costa repelled the defender with natural brute force and the expected outstretched hand. Ospina, whom many fans have favoured, went to ground like a picnic blanket wrapped around a gold bar. He committed himself too quickly and allowed Costa the luxury of time and judgment. Wenger once said that he was one of three world-class keepers on Arsenal’s books but I’ve never thought of him as such.
Although this defeat is not Ospina’s fault, he looked uncertain, tragically out of his comfort zone and minus the class that is required at this level. He kicked the ball out of play on unnecessarily, flapped and flustered his way around his own area and one felt it was only a matter of time before a goal came.
Costa went close early on, when he breezed past Koscielny and Monreal with only Ospina to beat but the keeper did just enough. The alarm bells were ringing loudly but Arsenal never heeded the warnings and looked clueless every time Atletico swept forward. Griezmann increased the nerves by managing to create some space with his back to goal. Time seemed to stand still as he turned and shot narrowly wide.
In truth, Arsenal were outclassed by the better side, one with depth and determination, one that was creative in the middle, clinical in attack and robust in defence. Surely Simeone has one hand on the Europa League trophy because there is nothing to suggest otherwise.
Wenger’s last European venture ended like so many others, in pain and misery. No final trophy, no fabulous end to his reign, just more of the same. Failed by his players on the night, frustrated by his team’s lack of bite, all of which leaves him to say his goodbyes in the worst possible circumstances. Another year without a Champions League place will hardly be a selling point for a new manager and when the seasonends,, you imagine that a number of players will be employed elsewhere.
Welbeck, Xhaka, Bellerin, Monreal, Mustafi and Koscielny, who was stretchered off in the first half, are all surplus to requirements. Wenger’s blind faith in players that lack quality will be the main reason he will be working at another club next season. It’s a miserable end to the Frenchman’s career at Arsenal and one genuinely feels for him but the season had failure written all over it from as early as eight games in.
The weaknesses were still there and were not about to miraculously disappear for the sake of a pretty end to the manager’s reign. There is much to do in the summer and whoever comes in has a Herculean task on their hands to address the obvious frailties.
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