One nil to the Arsenal. It was never going to be enough.
Even before Atletico Madrid equalised, there was always the fear Arsenal might not be able to defend such a slender lead in seven days time. Antoine Griezmann’s goal with eight minutes remaining confirmed it. Madrid, reduced to ten men after nine minutes, had barely been able to get out of their half for much of the game. When they did, they scored.
What a soft, soft goal it was, too. Alexandre Lacazette lost possession and a long ball was pumped up for Griezmann to chase. It was the first real defensive work for Laurent Koscielny all half, and he messed up. He allowed Griezmann to get away slightly, then kicked a panicked clearance into his own face. David Ospina saved but the ball went loose. Shkodran Mustafi, covering, slipped over, Griezmann scored. It was a brilliant result for Atletico; desperate for Arsenal.
The forward is embraced by his Atletico Madrid team-mates after profiting from a defensive lapse by the home side
After his first shot was saved by David Ospina, Griezmann fired beyond a sliding Shkodran Mustafi and into the net
Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette gave the home side the lead after an hour at the Emirates on Thursday evening
The France international striker climbed highest to head past the helpless Jan Oblak from a fine cross by Jack Wilshere
Lacazette salutes the Emirates crowd after handing Arsenal the initiative during an eventful semi-final first leg in London
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
Ospina 6.5; Bellerin 7.5, Mustafi 6.5, Koscielny 6.5, Monreal 7.5, Ramsey 7, Xhaka 7.5, Wilshere 8.5, Welbeck 7, Ozil 7.5, Lacazette 8
Subs not used: Cech, Holding, Iwobi, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Nketiah
Goals: Lacazette 61
Manager: Arsene Wenger 8
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2):
Oblak 8; Vrsaljko 3, Gimenez 8, Godin 9, Lucas 6.5; Correa 7 (Savic 75), Saul 7.5, Thomas 7.5, Koke 7, Gameiro 6.5 (Gabi 65), Griezmann 7.5
Subs not used: Werner, Torres, Costa, Vitolo, Olabe del Amo
Goals: Griezmann 82
Red cards: Vrsaljko
Manager: Diego Simeone 6
Referee: Clement Turpin 7
Alexandre Lacazette gave Arsenal the lead with a pinpoint header after an hour
Frankly, there will never have been a better chance to put Atletico Madrid away. Down to ten men within ten minutes, Diego Simeone sent to the stand after 12, Diego Costa on the bench, not quite fit enough to be involved – Arsenal could not have asked for better circumstances than this.
It was as if football’s celestial writing room had got together to cast the perfect end narrative for a favourite character. Like Meghan Markle’s wedding in Suits. Arsene Wenger was going to ride off into the sunset with a European trophy at last. It was all going in his favour.
And, yes, Arsenal ran with that storyline – but not as eagerly as they should. They scored through a Lacazette header after 60 minutes, but could not prevent the away goal. Arsenal’s journey to the Champions League final under Wenger in 2006 was built on defensive resilience and fine margins, but this is a different group.
If the pesky Costa is back, in front of a raucous home crowd, knowing even a goalless draw will do, it is hard to imagine Arsenal will hold. And yes, Madrid were favourites here – but with ten men for 81 minutes, and a charismatic manager in exile high in the stands? This was a huge opportunity lost for Arsenal.
Had Danny Welbeck got the merest touch on a Lacazette pass across the face of goal after 67 minutes, this could have been close to perfect. Instead Lacazatte’s header from a Jack Wilshire cross after 60 minutes will have to do. It was a well taken goal, with a fine hang time, impressive even in the NBA, but it doesn’t see enough. Arsenal must score in Madrid and not concede. Nobody is thinking fairytale right now.
Atletico Madrid were reduced to 10 men after only 10 minutes after Sime Vrsaljko was shown a second yellow card
The defender was sent off by referee Clement Turpin following a foul on Arsenal striker Lacazette on Thursday night
Vrsaljko had to be led down the tunnel by Atletico staff as he protested his sending off in the opening stages of the tie
Within minutes, the visitors’ plight had worsened after manager Diego Simeone (L) was sent to the stands at the Emirates
Simeone was furious with the referee and made his feelings known to the official before making his way down the tunnel
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was pictured at the Emirates as Arsenal fans waved Simeone away from the dugout
The Argentine boss had to watch from afar after being sent from the pitch following protests to the officials on Thursday
There is a peculiar form of frustration in struggling to break down ten men and the tension was only too evident as Arsenal threw themselves against the massed ranks of Atletico’s resistance throughout the first-half. Not just one man down, but one manager down, too. Diego Simeone joining his player Sime Vrsaljko in being banished from the game.
It wasn’t just the dismissals, however, but their timing that came as a shock. Vrsaljko was booked after two minutes, gone after nine minutes, and Simeone in 13. For the rest of the game, Madrid protested that first offences were not dealt with as harshly again by referee Clement Turpin. They had a point.
If Vrsaljko’s initial booking for a foul on Jack Wilshere looked justified, his second for a challenge Alexandre Lacazette seemed more unfortunate, catching his opponent through bad timing more than malevolence. It didn’t seem like two bookings: maybe one and a half. Simeone on the touchline was furious, waving his arms as if demanding a recount. From there, he was an accident waiting to happen.
When he considered Hector Bellerin had been treated leniently for a foul, his anger took him onto the pitch. Turpin arrived and sent him to the stands. He stood at the back of the directors box in front of two white doors, like an agitated security detail. One almost expected him to start checking accreditation at half time. Few in the queue would have fancied their chances of getting in.
During the first half of the Europa League semi-final, Lacazette had a penalty appeal turned down after going down in the box
Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa grimaces in pain as he goes down under a sliding challenge from Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey
England forward Danny Welbeck sees a shot at goal blocked as Arsenal looked to turn early pressure into an opening goal
Atletico captain Diego Godin tries to dribble away from Ramsey during the first half at the Emirates on Thursday night
Right back Hector Bellerin (right) tries to get a foot to the ball ahead of Atletico midfielder Koke in an eventful opening period
The effect though was to heighten the expectation among the home fans, and their irritation when Arsenal continue to tap dance around the fringes of the penalty area, lacking the killer instinct to put Atletico away. They had already gone close after seven minutes when a Danny Welbeck cross was taken on the volley by Lacazette, smashed into the turf, rearing up to clip the outside of the near post.
A minute later, a cross from Nacho Monreal was met by Lacazette again, his header thwarted by Jan Oblak, undoubtedly one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe.
After 30 minutes, Arsenal had recorded 70 per cent of possession and the Atletico goal was under siege. Welbeck and Wilshere played a lovely one-two before Oblak saved at the feet of the striker. The pair combined again, when Welbeck delivered a neat cross which deserved better than Wilshere’s tame headed finish.
Aaron Ramsey then set up the best chance so far, his cross flicked across goal by Lacazette, falling to Monreal whose first time shot travelled just wide.
But then, strangely, the course of the game shifted. The last 15 minutes of the first-half belonged to Madrid who, having absorbed the pressure, began creating chances of their own.
England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance to watch the performances of the likes of Wilshere and Welbeck
Lacazette battles for possession with Griezmann, who earlier missed a good first-half chance for the visitors on Thursday
Ramsey (R) was one of a number of Arsenal stars that wasted opportunities to give their side an early lead at the Emirates
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shows his frustration as his side fail to make the most of their man advantage over Atletico
Antoine Gruiezmann had a low shot saved after 35 minutes and from the next attack Thomas Partey – switched from midfield to fill in for Vrsaljko at right-back – made a powerful run through Arsenal’s back ranks, before finding Griezmann whose shot was brilliantly saved by David Ospina.
All the while Madrid were using every break in play, every Arsenal infringement to surround Turpin demanding bookings and worse, each interruption an excuse to remove more time from the game.
In the background, Simeone’s assistant, German Burgos, was a one-man protest movement, citing every decision he saw as inconsistent with the earlier flurry of cards.
Burgos is a large man and this drew the attention of the locals whose abuse his chose to ignore, save for a look of contempt that would not have been out of place in a spaghetti western, on the face of a murderous outlaw chewing a cigar.
Atletico midfielder Thomas Partey tries to dribble through the challenges of Arsenal pair Granit Xhaka (L) and Ramsey (R)
Lacazette climbs above Godin to send a header goalwards – but the Gunners could find no way past Oblak in the first half
Correa challenges for a 50-50 against Arsenal centre back Laurent Koscielny as both sides looked for a way through