Atletico Madrid can ensure that Arsene Wenger’s 22-year spell in charge of Arsenal will end with a whimper rather than a blaze of glory by knocking the Gunners out of the Europa League.
The 68-year-old Frenchman may have won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups during his time with the club but since The Invincibles won the 2003/04 crown it has been a frustrating time for Gunners fans.
The first leg of the semi-final encapsulated Arsenal’s problems over the last few years with the team failing to build on early hope and ultimately suffering disappointment.
Arsenal dominated the game after Atletico had Sime Vrsaljko sent off in the first 10 minutes but only had Alexandre Lacazette’s header to show for their efforts before Diego Simeone’s belligerent team hit back to grab a late equaliser through Antoine Griezmann, 33/10 to score the first goal in Thursday’s second leg.
Chelsea did manage to beat Atletico at Wanda Metropolitano in the Champions League in September but there seems to be a malaise within the current Arsenal squad with the players and fans not appearing to be galvanised by Wenger’s imminent departure.
They needed a late flurry of goals to defeat West Ham United 4-1 at a subdued Emirates Stadium before suffering last-gasp heartbreak in Sunday’s 2-1 setback at Manchester United, their sixth away defeat in a row in the top-flight since the turn of the year.
Wenger’s team have contrived to lose 10 of their 17 away Premier League games this term, a poorer record than the likes of Newcastle United, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. They did manage to beat AC Milan at the San Siro but their last league triumph came at Selhurst Park in December.
In contrast Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in 17 La Liga home matches this season and have only conceded four goals during that sequence.
They have kept clean sheets in their three home knockout matches in the Europa League – against Copenhagen, Lokomotiv Moscow and Sporting Lisbon – and are 13/10 to do so again against Arsenal.
Atletico have the best defensive record in La Liga – they have conceded only 18 times in their 35 games – and have pedigree in Europe having won the Europa League in 2009/10 and 2011/12 and been Champions League finalists twice in the last five seasons.
It is the end of an era for Arsenal but it could also be for Atletico with concerns that their ageing squad will break up at the end of this season. Fernando Torres has already confirmed that he will be heading for pastures new in the summer, while doubts remain about the futures of Griezmann, Jan Oblak, Gabi, Juanfran, Diego Godin and Filipe Luis.
Los Rojiblancos have not won any silverware since the Spanish Super Cup in August 2014 but are 4/5 to end that trophy drought by winning this season’s Europa League.
Salzburg have done extremely well to reach the semi-finals of this season’s competition but they look set to come up short when they attempt to overcome a two-goal deficit following the first leg in Marseille.
The Austrian outfit’s 2017/18 season started in early July when they beat Maltese side Hibernians in the second qualifying round of the Champions League and, almost 10 months later, they are potentially only 90 minutes away from appearing in the Europa League final.
It has been quite a campaign for Marco Rose’s team as they are 11 points clear at the top of their domestic league, play Sturm Graz in the Austrian Cup final next Wednesday and have knocked Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio out of the Europa League.
They came up short against Marseille in last week’s first leg at the Stade Velodrome but can take some heart from their performances against the French side in the group stage of the Europa League. They won 1-0 on home soil in September before drawing 0-0 in Marseille five months ago.
It looks set to be another tight affair on Thursday with goals in short supply. The odds on there being under 1.5 goals in the game should be taken up at 3/1 while Israel international Moanes Dabour is 4/1 to score the first goal at the Red Bull Arena.
Former West Ham star Dimitri Payet was Marseille’s driving force in the first leg and the French side are 5/2 to win the Europa League this season.
They are currently fourth in Ligue 1 with three matches of the campaign left but are only two points behind second-placed Lyon and so have two chances of qualifying for next term’s Champions League, either by winning the Europa League or by their domestic endeavours.
Rudi Garcia’s team are in good form and are unbeaten in their last five league encounters since losing 3-2 at home to Lyon. They have scored nine goals in their last three games including a 5-1 thrashing of Lille.
They also scored five goals in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final clash with RB Leipzig last month and, as well as knocking the German side out of the competition, have got past Braga and Athletic Bilbao since the turn of the year.
Florian Thauvin has been prolific in Ligue 1 this season, but it has been Valere Germain who has shone in the Europa League and the 28-year-old former Monaco striker already has seven goals to his name in the competition. Germain is 43/20 to score at any time in the second leg while Marseille can be backed at 33/10 to keep a clean sheet in Austria.
Marseille have been in the doldrums for much of the last decade but they have the quality to reach the final of the competition for the third time in their history and first since they were defeated by Valencia 14 years ago.
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