Video: Europa League dream ends for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger
Diego Costa scores the winner to send Atletico Madrid to the final against Marseille
Atletico Madrid 1 Arsenal 0 (Atletico win 2-1 on aggregate)
No fairy tale then for Arsene Wenger, only failure in the shape of a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final yesterday and the flattest of endings to his 22 years in charge of Arsenal.
Instead of facing Marseille in the Europa League final on 16 May, Arsenal will finish their season against Huddersfield three days earlier. It will be a meaningless match given that the Gunners are already incapable of finishing in the top four and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
“It’s very sad. Very, very sad,” said Wenger. “Unfortunately you have to go through that. Our game can be very cruel. Sometimes [it’s] very nice but the suffering is very strong tonight.”
With the first-leg having ended in a 1-1 draw, Arsenal were always going to be up against it on a ground where Atletico last conceded a goal on 20 January.
Their task was made all the more difficult on the stroke of half-time when Antoine Griezmann fed Diego Costa and the former Chelsea striker chipped David Ospina to give the hosts the lead.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Gunners also had to contend with the departure of their captain Laurent Koscielny, who was stretchered off after tearing his Achilles, an injury that rules the Frenchman out of this summer’s World Cup.
Not that Arsenal didn’t create some chances in the second-half, but as in the first leg their finishing was not good enough, something you could say about the club in general over the past decade.
Take away the FA Cup and Arsenal have won nothing since the 2004 Premier League title, a terrible indictment of the board and the manager, who have presided over long years of mediocrity where second best was readily accepted.
The departure of Wenger is long overdue. Whoever succeeds the Frenchman will have to embark on a major overhaul of a squad that lacks spirit, stamina and the bloody-minded determination to win that were once a hallmark of Arsenal.
Under Wenger the squad has become soft, a reflection of the manager who for years has been neither honest nor realistic in analysing his team’s failings. He was at it again last night when asked about the defeat.
“Our performance was very good,” he said, after losing his 250th European game in charge of Arsenal. “I must say we played against a good team and congratulations to them and good luck in the final. We feel over the two games it was all enough to go through.
“If you look well at the two games we didn’t manage the important moments of the game well. That’s part of the quality of the team as well. We’re 1-0 up at home and concede a stupid goal. Tonight, with one minute to go before half-time, we concede a goal on the counter-attack when you know that these are vital moments in a game of this stature.”
So Wenger leaves the club having never won a European trophy in 22 years and with the Gunners facing their second consecutive season without Champions League football.
The defeat in Madrid means it’s a disappointing end for a manager who arrived in England with such poise and promise.