Europa League: Atletico Madrid vs Arsenal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction

Arsenal need to win in the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday if they are to progress to the Europa League final.

by Jon Mackenzie

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

20:05 BST, Thursday 3rd May, Wanda Metropolitano (Madrid, Spain), BT Sport

Atletico Madrid have not conceded a goal at the Wanda Metropolitano for 11 matches in all competition – a stretch which takes them back to January.

This will be a worry for Arsenal fans whose team travel to Madrid on Thursday looking to score at least once to have any hope of progressing into the final of the Europa League.

Having been unlucky to have come away without a victory in the first leg, Arsenal ended up drawing against an Atletico who had been reduced to ten men after nine minutes, Antoine Griezmann picking up the unlikeliest of equalisers in the 81st minute.

Arsene Wenger will be reminding his team that, even before the red card, they dominated at the Emirates.

This positivity, though, will be offset by the fact that Atletico are a very defensively solid side who have only conceded four goals at home all season.

This, then, could be as close to a final as Arsenal find themselves in this season.

Last Time Out

Alaves 0-1 Atletico Madrid (La Liga)

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent West)

With the game looking to be heading quickly towards a stalemate, Atletico will have been relieved when Wakaso handballed the ball in the box, giving away a penalty.

This Kevin Gameiro dutifully dispatched, keeping his side in second place in La Liga even with Real Madrid breathing down their neck.

With only one point in it, if Real win their game in hand, there is very little room for Atletico to manoeuvre in their last three games.

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal (Premier League)

(Photo credit: Reuters/Carl Recine)

With nothing left to play for in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger fielded a heavily-rotated side when his team visited Old Trafford at the weekend.

This did not hold them back, though, and when Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s second-half goal cancelled out Paul Pogba’s fifteenth-minute tap-in, it looked like an upset could be on the cards.

Enter Marouane Fellaini whose 90th-minute headed finish broke the hearts of Wenger’s youngsters.

They will, however, have been happy to have been competitive for long stretches of the game.

Atletico Madrid Lineup

With Diego Costa making his way back into the Starting XI at the weekend, expect him to start at the weekend.

Sime Vrsaljko will be suspended following his red car in the first leg.

Arsenal Lineup

Despite the fact that they are carrying knocks, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi, David Ospina and Sead Kolasinac will all be in the squad travelling to Madrid.

Other than Santi Cazorla, Arsene Wenger has a relatively complete squad to pick from.

Key Battles: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid) vs Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)

It’s all too easy to pick out Shkodran Mustafi from the lineup of Arsenal players as the weak link in the chain.

Of course, it was mainly Laurent Koscielny who was to blame for Antoine Griezmann’s late equaliser but Mustafi must also shoulder some of the blame, slipping at a key moment when he could have blocked the Frenchman’s effort.

The last thing Arsenal need in a game like this is a jittery centre back but this is precisely what Mustafi has been all too often this season.

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent West)

In these scenarios, the best way to exploit the centre back is to put them under the pressure of a physical striker. Diego Costa is custom built for this.

Having been out for three weeks, Costa was unimpressive against Alaves at the weekend when he made his return.

However, he will be licking his lips at the chance of getting into Mustafi on Thursday night.

Talking Points

How tired are Atletico?

This season, Atletico Madrid have sold squad players to a dangerous extent, leaving them with only 18 first team players to choose from.

One of the side effects of this approach is that it leaves the squad fatigued. In the second half of the season, Atletico’s impressive domestic form has suffered somewhat, allowing Real Madrid to make up lost ground in La Liga.

If Arsenal, who rested their key players at the weekend, can exploit this tiredness, a win in the Wanda Metropolitano would not be the most unlikely of results.

This is Arsenal’s final

Whilst the narrative thread is growing extremely thin when it comes to Arsenal, this match offers Arsenal a chance to tie off the tapestry that is the Arsene Wenger era with a Europa League final on Thursday.

Although the season as a whole has been disappointing, what more fitting ending could there be than the Frenchman picking up a European trophy at the end of his career?

This sort of narrative impulse could offer just the sort of momentum that the Arsenal team need to turn this double header around.

Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Arsenal

Expect a valiant effort from Arsenal but, in the end, a hopeless attempt.

Atletico are one of the strongest home teams in the world and, with Arsenal needing to push hard for a goal, it’s hard to see them not ceding a goal in the course of the proceedings.



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Jon Mackenzie

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