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Europa League preview: Atletico stands in the way of Wenger's glorious farewell

Arsene Wenger

Bengaluru, April 26: The Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday is the last chance for Arsenal to qualify for next season's Champions League.

With long-serving manager Arsene Wenger deciding to leave at the end of the season, the Gunners could perhaps give a fitting farewell to him by winning the Europa crown.

But it is a job said much easier than done.

The match at the Emirates Stadium will be a clash of styles as stark as they come, but Wenger and Diego Simeone are anything but polar opposites.

Arsenal will flood forward at Emirates Stadium while Atletico will sit back; Arsenal will dominate possession, Atletico will counter; Arsenal will risk leaving gaps and Atletico will do everything they can to close them.

Wenger may share little common ground with Simeone on how best to win matches but there is no coach in the game that knows better the sense of identity and attachment to a club, which the Frenchman is now in the process of curtailing.

"I'm staying because this club has a future and that future is us," Simeone said at the end of last season, before extending his contract to 2020 in September.

If he sees it through, he will have been in charge at Atleti for almost nine years, still 13 short of Wenger's 22 but far closer in terms of status, impact and legacy.

Like Wenger too, Simeone enjoys casting Atletico as underdogs, up against rivals with far greater resources and far less concern for long-term thinking.

"What we can't do is forget the reality of the numbers," Simeone said, after his side lost 0-1 to Barcelona last month.

"In 14 years Madrid and Barca have always won the league, 13 times in 14 years. We made possible the impossible once but it is clear that it will not happen every year."

They nabbed the La Liga title in 2014, an astonishing achievement, but Atletico's priority has been qualification for the Champions League, particularly during the club's switch to its new stadium, a move completed at the start of this season.

Wenger once suggested a top-four finish was akin to winning a trophy and he knows the challenges of leaving a long-held home, both psychological and financial.

Simeone prefers to divert focus onto his players and the next game, just as Wenger has tried to do since announcing he will leave at the end of the season. Atletico, for whom Antoine Griezmann will once again be the key and Simeone, stand in the way of a potentially glorious farewell.

Arsenal's Ukrainian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will miss the tie while Mohamed Elneny is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle ligament injury.

Marseille favourites

In the other semifinal, Marseille will host Salzburg. The Ligue 1 club has been in irresistible form at home, where they are unbeaten with seven victories and would be hoping to maintain that run.

Salzburg, the Austrian champions, were unbeaten in the group stage and ousted Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio in the knockouts, all by one goal.

Kick off at 12.35 am IST (Friday)

Live on Sony Network

(With Agency inputs)

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Story first published: Thursday, April 26, 2018, 12:41 [IST]
Other articles published on Apr 26, 2018
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