Sports Desk :
Antoine Griezmann scored late for 10-man Atletico Madrid to draw at Arsenal 1-1 in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
Griezmann’s 82nd-minute equalizer following some clumsy defending from Laurent Koscielny was against the run of play but was reward for the team’s stout defending in the aftermath of Sime Vrsaljko’s early sending off. With the away goal, Atletico has to be considered the favorite to progress to the final on May 16 in the French city of Lyon.
The second leg is in the Spanish capital next Thursday. The winner looks like it will play Marseille, which beat Salzburg 2-0 in their first leg with goals from Florian Thauvin and Clinton N’Jie.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who was sent to the stands in the 13th for remonstrating with French referee Clement Turpin, was fulsome in his praise of his team’s defensive performance.
“These players are basically heroes,” he said. “They stood firm for 80-something minutes in a really tremendous way.”
Simeone’s game plan had to be revised as soon as the 10th minute when Vrsaljko, who had been booked for an early challenge on Jack Wilshere, picked up a second yellow for a late tackle on Alexandre Lacazette.
From that moment on, Arsenal dominated, but it wasn’t able to translate that dominance into a goal until the 61st. Following some neat interplay in and around the Atletico penalty area, Wilshere looped a cross to the far post which was steered in by a leaping Lacazette.
With just eight minutes of regular time remaining, Griezmann pounced on a long punt forward that was badly mishandled by Koscielny. Instead of just booting the ball into the stands, the Arsenal defender tried to flick it back over his head. Through on goal, Griezmann went past goalkeeper David Ospina to flick the ball in past defender Shkodran Mustafi, who slipped.
Aaron Ramsey went close to regaining the lead for Arsenal in the 87th with a header that required a finger-tip save from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said conceding late on when his team was in control was a disappointment, especially as the task in hand after taking the lead was to make sure his team was not caught out by a long ball.
“We can only look at ourselves,” he said.
Wenger, who announced last week he was standing down as Arsenal coach at the end of the season after nearly 22 years at the helm, said his team knows what it has to do next week.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said.
The Europa League is Arsenal’s last chance of a trophy. Winning European football’s second-tier competition would also give Arsenal a route back into the Champions League.
Champions League football next season is guaranteed for Atletico, which trails Barcelona in La Liga.
For his part, Simeone said the away goal doesn’t count for much, and each side had an equal chance of progressing.
“I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about the next match,” he said.unb