Arsenal can beat Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final
The Gunners are underdogs as they go up against the competition favourites, but Atleti’s thin squad and growing injury list should give Arsene Wenger’s side hope.
There are few sides as feared in European knockout competition as Atletico Madrid.
This is a side who in the past four years have competed in two Champions League finals and one semi-final. They also have pedigree in this competition having won the Europa League title twice in the past eight years.
Under Diego Simeone, the club have competed in the Champions League for four consecutive seasons and have only been eliminated in the knockout rounds by one club: Real Madrid.
A strange season so far
Yet this season has been a strange one for the club.
They provided the story of the group stages as they failed to progress into the last 16 (admittedly in the toughest group, behind Roma and Chelsea) to force them into the Europa League. They also only lost their first league game in December and their second league defeat did not arrive until late March.
It has been a season which has seen the club move into a new home, where they have yet to taste a league defeat and have only conceded four goals in 17 La Liga outings, and one which saw the end of a two-year FIFA-imposed transfer ban in January.
Disappointingly, Atletico Madrid were defeated in both legs of their Copa del Rey quarter-final with Sevilla and, despite an impressive league campaign, they have not been able to keep the pace with runaway, and undefeated, La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Despite the arrivals of Spanish international pair Vitolo and Diego Costa upon the reopening of the transfer window, it was not a squad with a great level of depth.
That was before a series of players exits: Yannick Carrasco, Augusto Fernandez, and Nicolas Gaitan all went to China, substitute goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya joined Real Sociedad and striker Luciano Vietto was loaned to Valencia.
The past week have seen injuries to fullback Juanfran and Costa – Arsenal’s great tormenter over the years. It leaves Atleti with just 14 fit outfield players in their first-team squad for the first leg at the Emirates Stadium this week.
It is likely youth team players will be promoted to supplement the substitutes bench, but this is a squad who have endured a long, gruelling campaign and legs are becoming weary.
Diego Simeone’s side have not conceded a goal in their last 11 home matches in all competitions but equally, they have won just one of their last six away matches. Their season now rests upon success in the Europa League and whilst they have the quality to celebrate more European success, they may not have quantity.
Given their home record, Arsenal must take full advantage of their first leg in North London this week but if they do, there is little reason why they cannot begin to dream of a final appearance next month.
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