Arsenal chokes away massive first-leg opportunity against Atletico in the Europa League

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Antoine Griezmann beat Laurent Koscielny for Atletico Madrid’s only goal of its Europa League semifinal first leg against Arsenal. (Getty)
Antoine Griezmann beat Laurent Koscielny for Atletico Madrid’s only goal of its Europa League semifinal first leg against Arsenal. (Getty)

When 60,000 Arsenal fans trickled through gates at the Emirates on Thursday night, they came for a football match; but also for something more. They came for the 107th of 107 Champions League or Europa League home games under Arsene Wenger. They came for the final chapter of Wenger’s European adventures.

And unfortunately, they got a fitting finale. Fitting for all the wrong reasons.

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They got “classic Arsenal,” or “peak Arsenal,” or whatever term you wish to use to describe the continuation of continuous continental failures. Failures despite hope and hints at possible success.

They saw Arsenal struggle with 10-man Atletico Madrid for 50 minutes, then finally break through, only to shoot themselves in the foot; to fall asleep; and to head back to Madrid with nothing to show for 80 minutes of 11-v-10 soccer.

The Gunners were on the front foot for much of the evening after Sime Vrsaljko picked up two yellow cards within 10 minutes.

Atleti manager Diego Simeone was sent to the stands shortly thereafter. Arsenal was in control. But it was unable to make control count. Jan Oblak was a flying, space-eating animal in the Atleti net. He got fingertips to headers from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette. He faced 28 shots, eight of which were on goal; he made seven saves. He was aided on one occasion by a post.

Even at 1-0 after Lacazette’s 61st-minute header, the story of Thursday night for Arsenal would have been one of moderate satisfaction, but also of opportunity squandered.

Instead, it is the story of opportunity completely choked away.

Nacho Monreal was caught day-dreaming at left back. Laurent Kosielny’s clearance was woefully insufficient. David Ospina let a ball squirm through his legs. Shkodran Mustafi couldn’t keep Antoine Griezmann’s second-chance poke out of the Arsenal net. Griezmann performed his trademark celebration to the unbridled delight of the traveling fans, and to the dejection of the rest.

The Emirates collectively sunk, resigned to “same old Arsenal.” Resigned to Wenger’s reign ending just as it has unravelled, with disappointment after disappointment.

No team should lose a two-leg tie playing 44 percent of it with a man advantage. After Thursday, and specifically after the concession of the away goal, there’s a very good chance Arsenal will. And there’s a very good chance Wenger will conclude 22 years at the helm without a European trophy.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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