Arsene Wenger went with the expected starting 11 which meant Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere returned from illness and injury respectively for Alex Iwobi who dropped to the bench and the injured Mohamed Elneny. I worried that Atletico would be too savvy for us and would bide their time before picking us off on the break with Antonio Griezmann in excellent form coming into the game. We needed to start with determination and a fast tempo and we did just that.
With less than 10 minutes gone and Arsenal in the ascendancy thinks took a real turn in our favour. Atletico’s right back received his second yellow card of the night for a nasty looking challenge on Nacho Monreal and it was hard to argue with the referee’s decision. We had the chance to put them to the sword and try to make the second leg a much easier prospect.
Arsenal surged forward and came close to scoring time after time, but the elusive goal wouldn’t come in the first half thanks to some excellent goalkeeping and profligate finishing. Atletico came back into the game late in the first half and early in the second half, but they soon retreated en masse to their own penalty area to try to defend the 0-0 scoreline. It seemed to be working for them until Alexandre Lacazette rose highest to head home a Jack Wilshere cross and put us 1-0 up.
We didn’t sit back and look to defend that lead as we pushed for more goals to bring the prospect of the final even closer. At the other end we maintained our discipline in defence and Atletico didn’t look like scoring in the second half. It took just one moment of madness to undo our good work though and that moment came with less than 10 minutes to go.
First of all Danny Welbeck ran into a blind alley and fell over looking for a foul that never happened when he lost the ball. With Atletico in possession in their own half Aaron Ramsey stood and watched as a long ball was played forward instead of at least attempting to close it down or put pressure on the player launching it. What happened next just encapsulated all that is wrong about our defending.
Every team knows how susceptible we are to a long ball, but Laurent Koscielny got to it ahead of Antonio Griezmann and just had to deal with it. Unfortunately he decided to try to hook it back over his head and instead hit himself in the face with that ball and the ball fell to Griezmann with only David Ospina to beat. Ospina got enough on his attempt to keep it out, but Shkodran Mustafi couldn’t stop him dispatching the rebound to the back of the net.
On the face of it the goal wasn’t the worst one to concede, but when you look closer it’s ridiculous how many things we got wrong. After both Welbeck’s and Ramsey’s contributions the spolight fell on the defenders and they really didn’t cover themselves in glory.
With Nacho Monreal five yards behind him Koscielny decided to push up and play offside for some bizarre reason. I’m not sure which one of them was at fault, but both of their actions showed a complete lack of communication. As Koscielny chased back with Griezmann he was watched by a virtually static Mustafi who never considered that Griezmann might get the better of Koscielny. When he did it was too late for Mustafi to recover in time and he slipped in his attempts to do so which only saw the shot deflect off him into the roof of the net.
We needed every single player to be on his game and concentrate 100% for every minute of the game, but as well as they did for so long they just couldn’t stop themselves reverting to type. The absolute basic errors we have made all season long came back to haunt us and Atletico got the away goal they craved. Try as we did we couldn’t regain our advantage and we had to settle for a draw on the night.
While going to Atletico and getting the result we need to progress to the final isn’t beyond us it’s still a huge task. They haven’t conceded a home goal in 11 games and they showed last night that they know how to defend even when they’re down to 10 men. We need to go there and score or we will be out of the competition and it’s going to take a monumental effort from the players to get a result.
I suppose last night was to be expected and it was foolish to let a team who have disappointed so often get our hopes up. I thought we played well enough though and we managed to get a goal against a team who don’t concede too many goals. Even at 1-0 we had a chance of going through, but those chances are vastly reduced now.
The disappointment stems from the chance we had when they went down to 10 men and the chances we continually created, but failed to take. We couldn’t have asked for more than playing against 10 men, but somehow we managed to mess it up for ourselves yet again. Hope springs eternal though and I refuse to give up on that hope until I hear the final whistle next Thursday night.
That’s it for today.
See you tomorrow.