ATM XI: Oblak, Vrsaljko (Red card 10’), Godín, Giménez, Lucas, Thomas, Saúl, Koke, Correa (Savić 75’), Griezmann (Torres 86’), Gameiro (Gabi 65’)
ARS XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey, Welbeck, Özil, Lacazette
The two standout teams left in the Europa League faced off in a first leg encounter at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. There was high pressing for both sides early doors, resulting in a very early yellow card for Šime Vrsaljko for a late tackle on Jack Wilshere. Arsenal created the first chance of the match as Alexandre Lacazette mishit a Danny Welbeck cross. Jan Oblak then had to make a save from a Lacazette header.
Vrsaljko was then made to pay for his early booking when he made contact with Lacazette’s boot. It looked a harsh decision from the referee, as the Croatian got the ball, but on the replay there was contact. From that point, things unraveled — Diego Simeone was sent to the stands for protesting, so Atlético Madrid were down a man and a manager. Without Oblak, Atlético would have been in an even bigger hole, as he made crucial saves from Welbeck, who caused Atlético many problems. On the other end, the mattress makers created nothing — down to 10, they thought it best to just try to contain and frustrate Arsenal.
The first shot Atleti registered was from Antoine Griezmann, on target half an hour in, but an easy save in the end for David Ospina. The next best chance came on a counter from Thomas, who did brilliantly to weave through the Arsenal defense, laid it off to Griezmann who fired right at Ospina.
As halftime approached, the game had become more even, with Atlético starting to create some scoring chances as the half drew to a close. The visitors clearly had the more difficult job in the second half with one less player, but could take some encouragement from the latter stages of the half.
But it would be Arsenal that opened the scoring on 60 minutes when Lacazette headed the Gunners into the lead from a Jack Wilshere cross. Arsenal did carry over some of their first half performance, and in response Simeone/Mono Burgos took off Kévin Gameiro for Gabi. Another defensive substitution took place 10 minutes later when Stefan Savić came on for Ángel Correa, and it was now very clear what Simeone’s goal was. It was risky in the sense Arsenal had all of the ball and looked dangerous, but with 10 men, there were few options.
Then out of nowhere Griezmann seized on a long ball out of the back to score a crucial away goal for Atlético. Oblak was again required to make a magnificent save from Ramsey, which was the last big moment of the match. Atlético saw out a great result, having so much go against them so early, but they got the reward in the end. It plays into Atleti’s hands in the second leg, but without Vrsaljko, the tiny squad grows ever smaller. There’s still a lot to play for in the second leg, but the first leg decidedly ends in Atleti’s advantage.