Arsenal land toughest draw of all with Atletico Madrid Europa League test
Former Gunner Paul Merson calls it “a nightmare draw”.
Arsenal must do it the hard way in their bid for Europa League glory after drawing favourites Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals.
The Gunners came from 2-0 down to draw the second leg of their quarter-final at CSKA Moscow 2-2 on Thursday night, progressing 6-3 on aggregate against the Russian side.
The Europa League is Arsenal’s only remaining chance of silverware this season and offers their most realistic route back into the Champions League as the north London club are 13 points adrift of the Premier League top four.
Speaking after Thursday night’s match, when at one point Arsenal had been a goal away from elimination, manager Arsene Wenger admitted he would prefer to avoid Atletico who looked “the strongest team on paper” of their potential opponents.
Atletico, who dropped down from the Champions League following the group stage, progressed at the expense of Sporting Lisbon despite a 1-0 away defeat in their second leg.
Diego Simeone’s side are currently second in LaLiga, behind runaway leaders Barcelona.
The other semi-final will be between French club Marseille and Austrian outfit Salzburg, who advanced following fine comeback wins over RB Leipzig and Lazio respectively.
Arsenal will host Atletico on April 26, and it remains to be seen whether former Chelsea forward Diego Costa will be fully fit for the Spaniards after picking up a hamstring injury against Sporting on Thursday.
The Gunners head to the Wanda Metropolitano stadium on May 3.
Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson believes tackling the Spaniards presents a “nightmare draw” for his old club.
Speaking to Premier League Daily on Sky Sports, Merson said: “Atletico are not a team that are going to blow you away – they’ll suffocate you more than anything and nick a goal.
“But I just think over two legs they can play the Atletico Madrid way and the manager’s way, it will be hard.
“If it was a one-off game in the cup final, Arsenal would have had a chance – but I just watch this team and I think they’ll have too much for Arsenal. It’s just a nightmare draw.”
Atletico were beaten 2-1 at home by Chelsea in their Champions League group match earlier in the season, and drew 1-1 at Stamford Bridge before failing to progress through to the knockout stages.
The Spanish club’s director Clemente Villaverde maintains no-one at Atletico will be taking their progress towards the final in Lyon as a foregone conclusion.
“From here on in all games are tough, against great opponents and the draw decided we’d face Arsenal, so we welcome it,” Villaverde said, quoted by www.uefa.com.
“They’re a great side and are there or thereabouts every year in their league and have gone far in Europe.
“They’re a similar side to us and it’s a very open game: it’s 50-50.”
Salzburg and Marseille were both in the same initial Europa League group, which the Austrians topped.
Marseille sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said: “This is not the worst draw, but we know Salzburg.
“We lost there and drew at home. Now this is a semi-final, it will be different.”