Arsenal will have it all on to reach the Europa League final after failing to take advantage of a depleted Atletico Madrid side in their home leg of the semis.
Already missing both first-choice full-backs through injury, Atleti were soon relieved of their auxiliary right-back Sime Vrsaljko when the Croatian picked up both the fastest yellow card (1 min, 15 seconds) and the fastest second yellow card (9 mins, 09 seconds) in Europa League history to leave Atleti a man light for the rest of the night.
Vrsaljko’s first caution came for a slack challenge on Jack Wilshere, while the second was administered for the softest of trips on Alexandre Lacazette just eight minutes later…
Already bristling with nervous energy, Diego Simeone went nuclear after referee Clement Turpin brandished the red card, leading to the seething Argentinian coach being sent to the stands – and all this coming with less than 15 minutes on the clock.
Arsenal then got on top for the remainder of the first half, but failed to carve anything substantial out beyond a few half chances as their Spanish opposition began to coagulate, sit deep and create a sturdy yellow barrier between the Gunners and Jan Oblak’s goal.
Indeed, it took until the 61st minute for Arsene Wenger’s side to make the breakthrough when Lacazette rose at the back post to nod home Jack Wilshere’s deep cross…
However, even with the wind in their sails and an extra man on the pitch, the hosts came some way short of extending their lead as Oblak pulled off several impressive saves to keep the margin down to a single goal.
And then, the ‘Arsenal moment’ everybody was sort of expecting.
Stemming from the Gunners’ own attack, one quick turnover and long ball saw Antoine Griezmann pitted one-on-one with Laurent Koscielny, who proceeded to smack his panicky clearance into his own face and back into the striker’s path.
An inopportune stumble from Shkodran Mustafi capped off the calamity as Griezmann nipped in, kept his composure and scored his first ever goal on English soil…
And that’s how it ended: 1-1, with Atleti snaffling a potentially crucial away goal into the bargain. Against the run of play, as always.
Despite having to watch the game in isolation from up in the rafters, Simeone was positively beaming with his team’s performance in the aftermath.
You guys have no idea how hard it is to defend and defend like that. Playing is the fun part. But defending like that for so long takes balls.
If anybody has the necessary bastardy in him to ruin Wenger’s big continental swansong, it’s Diego.
On a much, much more positive note, there were cockle-warming scenes before the match when Santi Cazorla came out of the tunnel for some light training, kicking a ball around on the Emirates pitch for the first time since October of 2016…
It’s only Santi bloody Cazorla out on the Emirates pitch!!!! pic.twitter.com/uZHdQiko5c
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) April 26, 2018
While it’s unlikely Cazorla will ever make a full return given the extent of his injury woes, it’s just thoroughly nice to see him back in his natural environment after all this time.