Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final first leg at home to Atletico Madrid on Thursday (kick-off 8.05pm) is like a “Champions League night” for the club.
Arsenal will qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the competition, but the Spanish side, tough to beat over two legs in previous seasons, stand in their way.
Much discussion in build-up to the match surrounds Wenger’s departure in the summer and the candidates to be his successor, but in his pre-match press conference, the Frenchman attempted to keep focus on the job in hand.
“It is a Champions League night. A Champions League place is at stake, for us. These are two teams that are used to be playing in the Champions League.
“We need to get a positive result, it won’t be over after tomorrow. They have no real weak point, they are strong defensively, they are strong offensively, we need a complete performance.”
Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere all trained on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s clash. The trio, as well as full-back Sead Kolasinac, missed Sunday’s 4-1 Premier League win over West Ham with minor complaints, but all were part of the squad working at London Colney.
Ozil was ill, while Cech had a minor hip injury as Wilshere and Kolasinac were sidelined with ankle problems.
Mohamed Elneny was carried off on a stretcher on the stroke of half-time with ankle ligament damage, although Arsenal are hopeful he will play again this season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also absent, but could feature in the second leg in Madrid next week, having trained away from the group on Wednesday.
The news will be a boost to outgoing Arsenal boss Wenger as he looks to end his near-22 year tenure with a European trophy, especially as Atletico themselves were given good news as former Chelsea forward Diego Costa was passed fit to travel to London following a hamstring injury.
Atletico full backs Filipe Luis and Juanfran will be missing, however.
This is the first meeting between these sides – Atletico will be the 10th different Spanish side the Gunners have faced in Europe.
Arsenal are appearing in their eighth European semi-final – they have progressed from six of the previous seven, only failing to reach the final in 2008-09 in the Champions League when they lost to Manchester United.
This will be Atletico Madrid’s third Europa League semi-final, winning over two legs against Liverpool in 2009-10 and Valencia in 2011-12 to reach the final in their previous two.
Arsenal have scored 29 goals in the Europa League this season, more than any other side – in fact, in only one previous European campaign have the Gunners scored more, netting 30 in 1999-2000 when they competed in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup.
Arsene Wenger will face his 125th different opponent as Arsenal boss in this match – he has only lost his first match against 10 of the previous 124, and the Frenchman has won each of his last eight matches when facing an opponent for the first time.
Diego Costa has scored three goals in six matches against Arsenal (all for Chelsea), scoring in his last appearance against them at Wembley in the FA Cup Final in May 2017 – he also scored the winner at the Emirates in a 1-0 victory in January 2016.
Arsenal finally made the breakthrough announcement they needed, with Arsene Wenger confirming his departure at the end of the season, but I don’t think the Gunners were overly impressive at the weekend.
I thought it was a really strange selection not starting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Alexandre Lacazette has found himself some scoring form but he’s probably still thinking he wishes his move to Atletico Madrid had gone through in the summer.
Atletico are heavy favourites for me with their defensive strength and Arsenal’s backline constantly making me nervous. How Shkodran Mustafi is still in the team is beyond me, but the competition isn’t really there.
There’s not much between these two sides other than their defences and I can see Arsenal scoring a couple of times at the Emirates Stadium, but my concern is keeping that concentration to prevent Atletico snatching a vital away goal.
Charlie predicts: 2-1 and Lacazette to score first.
Source- Sky sport
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