The last week has been a blur for Arsenal, their supporters and their outgoing manager Arsene Wenger, who announced his resignation after 22 long years in the job. Despite all his experience, the Frenchman would have found it tough to deal with the fallout of his decision, especially since it comes during a time the club has struggled to stay relevant among the elite. The last few years have been a battle for Wenger, as he fought to take his team back to relevance, back to where they belong, fighting for titles year in, year out.
Stuck in a very similar, yet completely different situation is Diego Simeone, as he fights for relevance too. What he has managed to accomplish with Atletico Madrid is nothing short of miraculous, a feat that deserves commendation. Simeone has managed to take a unit that was struggling for relevance by forging them into a team cut from the same cloth as him and helped them achieve great success, winning the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and the La Liga, in a span of three years. Not just that, they also reached two Champions League finals in the last five years, only to be outdone by their arch-rivals, Real Madrid, on both occasions.
The Europa League title holds great importance for Wenger, as winning it would propel the Gunners back into Europe's premier club competition, and also give them their first and only European trophy during his reign. It would be a poetic way for him to leave the club that he loves and move on, allowing them to enter a new era. It would also be a statement of intent and an answer to all those who have questioned his ability to manage in Europe. The silverware will help him walk out with his head held high, amid rumours that his resignation was prompted by the club management planning to sack him in the summer.
Simeone took the Rojiblancos from being mid-table also-rans to title contenders, from perennial bridesmaids to becoming the bride, from a team that embraced their inability to win trophies to a team that craved more success once they won the initial trophies. Losing two Champions League finals brought back feelings of being bridesmaids once more as they were pipped to the post twice by Real. Despite being recognised as one of the contenders for the competition every year, they did not win it. As the team continued growing older, they saw other teams getting ahead of them, as they fell down to the Europa League.
Having almost come full circle, it is time for them to reinvent the wheel again, and begin that by winning the Europa League. As key squad members like Gabi and Juanfran's futures are up for discussion, the club legend, Fernando Torres has already confirmed he will be leaving his boyhood team in the summer. There needs to be an evolution to aid the revolution that El Cholo masterminded in the last five years to continue Atletico Madrid's journey to becoming a team that can continually challenge the supremacy of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Right now, they are the proverbial third wheel, always on the outside, looking in.
Always a reactive coach, the time has come for Simeone to finally cut his team some slack, especially as they have the players to incorporate an attacking style. In Koke, Saul Niguez, Thomas Partey, they have a strong spine in midfield to build on, with Luis Gimenez and Jan Oblak anchoring the defensive line. The return of Diego Costa has given them a spark that his presence did earlier when they won the La Liga in 2014 and Simeone would be hoping that his return is the beginning of a special time for the club again.
Arsenal, have started their rebuild without sacrificing their current players, instead choosing to assimilate their new players on the go. The signings of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, along with the extension of Mesut Ozil's contract and the departure of Alexis Sanchez, saw the club revitalise their attack in six very furious months, forming what is going to be their attacking nexus for the next few seasons. They need additions in defence and midfield to help them complete their rebuild and the road ahead promises to be a rocky one for the next man in-charge of the London club.
Wenger will have almost his entire squad fit and available for the encounter against Atletico, with Ozil, a thorn in the side of the Rojiblancos during his time at Madrid (four goals and one assist), expected to play an important role. Aaron Ramsey will be key in controlling the midfield for the Gunners, while up front, Lacazette and Danny Welbeck will both share the responsibilities of testing the Atletico defence.
Diego Simeone has confirmed that Costa, an old nemesis of the Gunners, has recovered from his hamstring complaint and would be fit and raring to go. He has scored three goals in his last six games against Wenger's side, apart from causing numerous problems throughout those matches. His presence brings the best out of Atletico's talisman, Antoine Griezmann, whose future at the club is also not certain, with Barcelona and Juventus said to be keen on signing him.
A match that deserves to be the final as these two teams have been the best in the competition, the first leg at the Emirates stadium is sure to see some great attacking football, with the visitors set up to absorb pressure and hit the Gunners on the counter. Simeone's side has shown in the past few years that their ability to perform in two-legged matches and know-how is second to none, and they would be relying on that to gain an advantage going into the second leg at home.
Winning the Europa League would mean a lot to both teams and managers. For Arsenal, it would be the last hurrah under Wenger, who can then get the farewell he deserves. For Atletico, it would mean a fresh start under Simeone, the man who has brought them back to the mainstream.
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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2018 16:22:41 IST