Wenger’s European dream is ended by Costa
Former Chelsea striker returns to haunt the Gunners as Atletico Madrid win 2-1 on aggregate in Europa League semi-final
03 May, 2018 — By Steve Barnett
ATLETICO MADRID 1 (Costa 45 + 2)
THE fairytale ending to Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign as Arsenal manager was crushed by an old foe last night (Thursday) as Atletico Madrid booked their place in the Europa League final at the north Londoners’ expense.
With the tie level at 1-1 after the first leg, former Chelsea striker Diego Costa returned to haunt the Gunners as he scored the only goal of the game to earn Atletico a 1-0 win at the Wanda Metropolitano, and, with it, a 2-1 victory on aggregate.
In the build-up to the semi-final showdown Wenger had spoke of his “dream” to win the Europa League so that he could end his career as Arsenal manager on a high. But after the game he admitted that one of “the best strikers in the world” turned his dream into a nightmare.
“It was a similar game to what we had in the first leg. The dangerous situations we created were there but we missed something in both boxes,” he said. “We played a good team and good luck to them in the final, but we feel we did enough to go through.
“We didn’t manage the important moments of either game well. We were 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go at home, and then we conceded a stupid goal. Tonight we looked OK and then conceded on the counter-attack. Atletico played with fear in the first half that if we scored they could be out, but once they scored they played with a cushion.
“We lost possession and Costa is one of the best strikers in the world.”
Costa looked a threat early on when he easily bruised Nacho Monreal off the ball before rifling his shot over the bar. A shaky start got even worse for the visitors when captain Laurent Koscielny was carried off after tearing his Achilles – an injury that will rule the Frenchman out of the World Cup.
In added time at the end of the first half Costa took full advantage of an Arsenal defence that already seemed like it was back in the dressing room. The striker latched on to Antoine Griezmann’s sweeping pass and, all too easily, ignoring the flimsy attentions of Hector Bellerin, drove into the box before powerfully smashing the ball past David Ospina.
The Arsenal players tried their best to revive Wenger’s dying dream, and almost responded within minutes of the restart when Aaron Ramsey suddenly found himself through on goal. But the midfielder’s touch let him down and the chance was wasted as the ball trickled out for a goal-kick.
Throughout the nervy encounter Arsenal managed to fashion out a number of half-chances, including a long-range effort from Granit Xhaka that was palmed away by Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s stunning volley that skimmed the top netting.
In truth, however, Arsenal’s final pass was all too often lacking, and in the end they were unable to breach the home side’s resolute defence.
Defeat for the Gunners means they will miss out on Champions League football for the second season in succession, and, somewhat more agonisingly, that Wenger’s tenure in charge ends with him never quite being able to lead the club that he loves to European glory.
ARSENAL: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny (Chambers, 12), Monreal, Xhaka, Wilshere (Mkhitaryan, 68), Ramsey, Ozil, Welbeck, Lacazette.
Substitutes not used: Cech, Kolasinac, Maitland-Nile, Iwobi, Nketiah.
ATLETICO MADRID: Oblak, Partey (Savic, 90 + 3), Gimenez, Godin, Lucas, Vitolo (Correa, 74), Saul, Gabi, Koke, Costa (Torres, 83), Griezmann.
Substitutes not used: Werner, Felipe Luis, Olabe, Gameiro