If there ever was a match that helped establish the characteristics of the teams, it was the first leg of the semi-final between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid. True to type, Arsenal dominated for the majority of the match, created multiple chances to score and put the game away before a defensive lapse cost them their advantage. And, true to type, Atletico Madrid fought their way back from adversity, exhibited great fortitude and pounced on their opponents' weakness to grab the upper hand going into the second leg.
The Gunners were haunted by their inability to keep a limited opposition out, as they gave away a cheap goal that resulted from a long ball. Captain Laurent Koscielny was the guilty party, as his bad clearance gave Antoine Griezmann the opportunity to go through on goal and score. Another weakness in Arsenal's game has been their wastefulness in front of goal.
Having created tonnes of chances to score, they fluffed their lines repeatedly, needing a 61st minute header from Alexandre Lacazette to take the lead. These two factors, along with the lack of bite in midfield, is why the north London outfit have really struggled to make an impression in Europe in the past eight years. They lack the tactical nous needed to negotiate two-legged ties.
On the other end of the spectrum are Atletico, with their expert ability to get the right result in two-legged ties. Their ability to grind results out, counter at pace and indulge in the dark arts when needed makes them a team in the mould of their manager, Diego Simeone, never ready to give up and concede defeat.
Having gone down to 10 men as early as the 10th minute due to two bookable offences committed by Sime Vrsaljko, the Rojiblancos dug deep, showed little attacking ambition and protected their territory with ferocity. What typifies Simeone's team is not just the ability of the defenders, but also of the flair players like Griezmann and Saul Niguez to toil for the team.
The team from Madrid withstood wave after wave of attack from the Gunners, throwing their bodies in the way of shots and crosses to make crucial blocks. When they were beaten, Jan Oblak showed why he is such a key member of the team, producing some great saves to keep the home side out. They don't get demoralised when they concede a goal, they just think of it as another adverse situation and fight that bit harder to claw back whatever advantage the opponent has.
This facet of the Atletico team has been honed over the last seven years, with their manager teaching them the importance of being ready to fight the odds and accept that they may be treated unfairly in the process. Years of fighting Barcelona and Real Madrid has forged them into the well-drilled unit they are today and battling against teams with better resources and better players is their default mode.
Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil created multiple openings for the home side to score, but Lacazette, Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey found themselves thwarted on multiple occasions, with the away side's defence standing tall. Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin were warriors at the heart of the defence and the Uruguayan duo employed every tactic in the book to ensure Arsenal did not get much of an advantage.
Going into the second leg, Arsene Wenger's men have their task cut out as they need to try and score at what is an impregnable fortress for Atletico Madrid. Despite this being their first season at the Wanda Metropolitano, it is clear that the team have lost no time in acclimatising to the new stadium to make it a tough venue for opponents. The Spanish giants have conceded only eight goals at home throughout the season, and haven't conceded a goal at home since 20 January, an astonishing run that has spanned more than three months.
There is only one English team that has failed to secure an away win in Premier League in 2018. Indeed, it is Arsenal who have shown that they are a completely different outfit away from home and have lacked the mental strength and concentration necessary at crucial times to pull off results. However, fans will take solace from the fact that their two away wins in 2018 have been in the Europa League, in previous rounds against Ostersund and AC Milan.
Thursday night's match showed what people have known for some time now. Simeone is one of the best managers out there, and is a master at getting results in two-legged ties, which is why Atletico Madrid are the force they are and more likely to feature in the Europa League final. Wenger, sadly, has been found out on multiple occasions in European competition in the past, and if he wants to go out with a shot at winning the Europa League, he has to inspire a performance for the ages in the second leg.
Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 12:04 PM