PARIS: A late equaliser from French striker Antoine Griezmann gave 10-man Atletico Madrid a precious away-goal advantage over Arsenal as the first leg of their Europa League semi-final at the Emirates ended 1-1 on Thursday.
Arsenal were given a huge boost after 10 minutes when Atletico defender Sime Vrsaljko was sent off for stamping on Alexandre Lacazette’s foot, and Atletico coach Diego Simeone was sent to the stands for his furious reaction to the decision.
The Premier League side dominated possession but missed a number of clear chances, with Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak making several fine saves before Lacazette broke the deadlock in the 61st minute.
The French forward headed Jack Wilshere’s cross down into the corner of the net to give manager Arsene Wenger hope of winning a trophy in his last season at the club and taking his last chance to get the team back into the Champions League.
Atletico seized back the initiative in the 82nd minute, however, when Griezmann sped past Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny, collected his rebounded shot off keeper David Ospina and calmly lifted the ball into the roof of the net.
“We come out tonight with a bitter taste,” Wenger told reporters after the penultimate home game of his 22-year reign at Arsenal.
“You have to stay 1-0 up and after that everything is open, the Frenchman added. “We created the anticlimax by giving away the goal.”
With the away goal, Atletico have to be considered the favourites to progress to the final on May 16 in the French city of Lyon and Simeone hailed their resistence.
“These players are basically heroes,” he said. “They stood firm for 80-something minutes in a really tremendous way.”
Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week to progress, and Simeone urged the home support to create an explosive atmosphere.
“Next week the stadium has to explode with positive energy,” added the Argentine. “We can play well or badly but you don’t see this commitment everywhere...I have goosebumps thinking about next week already.”
The winner looks like it will play Olympique de Marseille, who beat Salzburg 2-0 in their first leg with goals from Florian Thauvin and Clinton N’Jie.
Dimitri Payet looked back to his best after setting up both goals at a packed Stade Velodrome.
Winger Florian Thauvin headed in Payet’s curing free kick deep to the back post in the 15th minute, although video replays showed Thauvin headed the ball onto his outstretched hand before it went in.
Still, it was Thauvin’s 22nd goal of an outstanding season which has seen him break back into the France squad ahead of the World Cup.
Payet is fighting to keep his France squad place, but another performance like this will make it hard for coach Didier Deschamps to freeze him out of Russia. He was involved in all of Marseille’s best moves, and even chased back to harry Salzburg’s players.
But he did the most damage with his passing, expertly setting up substitute Clinton N’Jie for Marseille’s second goal in the 63rd.
N’Jie had been on the field only a few minutes, but brilliantly took down a pass near the halfway line and flicked it to Payet sprinting down the left. Payet then resisted the temptation to cross quickly, instead waiting for N’Jie to drift into the penalty area before feeding him with a perfect pass to fire home from.
“It is a good result. We wanted to win and it’s done. And doing it without conceding a goal was a good idea,” said Marseille coach Rudi Garcia.
“We know we are not through yet. We will go there looking to score at least one goal and win the game. We need to show we deserve to go to the final.”
Marseille are desperate to reach a final that will be played at the home of their bitter rivals Olympique Lyonnais. They are aiming to win a second European trophy, a quarter of a century after their triumph in the inaugural Champions League final in 1993.
Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2018