Atlético’s Diego Costa denies Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger European final farewell


For Arsène Wenger, there will be no happy ending. “Rumbo hacia Lyon,” (road to Lyon) read the huge banner unfurled by the most boisterous section of Atlético Madrid supporters before this victory. Diego Simeone’s team are, as promised, on their way to the Europa League final and whatever tributes come for Wenger over the next 10 days – the promise of a statue, perhaps, or even a stand named in his honour at the Emirates – it will not be how he wanted the story to finish.

All that is left now is Sunday’s home game against Burnley, followed by the trips to Leicester and Huddersfield, and perhaps it is a fitting end to a season of drift. Arsenal came up short, as they often do against elite teams, and when they needed something special in the second half, losing to Diego Costa’s goal, they did not have the personnel to deliver it. Arsenal barely summoned a chance and the late onslaught that might have been anticipated never really materialised. There was only one goal in it – yet Arsenal were obliging opponents for a team with Atlético’s defensive expertise.

This was Atlético’s 12th successive clean sheet at this stadium – an incredible run that goes back to 20 January and covers 1,097 minutes in play – and that parsimonious defending was the difference over the two legs. Atlético were brilliantly efficient at the back whereas it is more than 10 years since the same could be said of Wenger’s teams. He has never won a European trophy and, yes, it would have been a lovely way to go out after 22 years as Arsenal’s manager. Atlético, however, give the impression that fairytale endings are just that – for fairytales.

On top of everything else, Arsenal also lost Laurent Koscielny to a ruptured achilles tendon, an injury that will have ramifications for France. Koscielny, who has been nursing a long-standing problem, went down in such a way the seriousness of the injury immediately became apparent.

He pounded the turf in pain and frustration and his reaction was of a man who must have known straight away what it meant for his hopes of playing in the World Cup. Koscielny was supposed to retire after this summer’s tournament; instead, he will not be involved with Didier Deschamps’s team in Russia.

Hypothetical now, but perhaps Arsenal might have coped better with Costa and Antoine Griezmann if their captain had lasted longer than seven minutes. Then again, Koscielny was badly at fault for Griezmann’s goal in the first leg. Griezmann had another fine game and when the two Atlético forwards combined at the end of the first half, in the time added on for Koscielny’s treatment, it led to the game’s decisive moment.

Until the point the Arsenal supporters, positioned in the most vertiginous levels of this sweeping new-build stadium, must have been pleasantly surprised by the way their team had set about the game.

All the same, Wenger’s men had a lot of the ball without doing a great deal with it. Mesut Özil, for instance, was prominently involved without being able to pick out a killer pass. Atlético have conceded only 18 goals in 35 La Liga appearances this season and Arsenal needed more from their attacking players. Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette were disappointing.

In the second half Arsenal were attacking the end where their supporters were gathered and there were some encouraging moments early on. Granit Xhaka’s low shot brought the first noteworthy save from Jan Oblak and there were even a few moments of carelessness from the home team’s defenders.