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Arsenal face tough showdown with Atletico Madrid to salvage frustrating season

By on April 10, 2018

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Arsenal’s chances of salvaging something from a poor season now boil down to their ability to win the Europa League. The Gunners are well behind in the top four race, out of the FA Cup and still licking their wounds after suffering a Carabao Cup final drubbing at the hands of Man City. They can still qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the Europa League, and they should cruise through to the semi-finals. They enjoy a healthy 4-1 aggregate lead over CSKA Moscow after another assured performance at The Emirates, but can they go all the way?

The big stumbling block is the formidable presence of Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone’s men are usually still challenging for the Champions League at this stage in the season, and it is strange to see them in Europe’s second tier tournament. But they are annihilating teams as they hurtle towards the final, and if Arsenal want to win it they will most likely have to beat Atletico. Bookmaker will have odds, make sure to look them over if wagering, check the market to find the best prices and you will see that Arsenal are second favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the season.

Atletico Madrid lead the way at just 11/10 in the betting, while Arsenal are next at 5/2, and then there is a large gap to Lazio at 7/1 and RB Leipzig at 8/1. The Gunners’ demolition of AC Milan showed just how far the Premiership is ahead of Serie A these days, so Lazio should not pose too many problems. RB Leipzig are very inconsistent in Germany, and these are the sort of teams Arsenal should be beating with ease. But Atletico are another kettle of fish entirely.

This is a team that has conceded just 15 goals in 31 league games this season. That gives them the best defensive record in any of Europe’s top five leagues in 2017/18, and that is a trend we have seen many times in recent years. Simeone has his men extremely well drilled and they are very difficult to break down. They press hard and high up the pitch, they hunt in packs and they are strong in the tackle. They held high-flying Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw at the weekend, despite yielding 69% of possession to Cristiano Ronaldo and co. That shows how strong their focus is when it comes to defending. But going forwards they are seriously impressive too, with Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa supported by the likes of Saul Niguez and Koke.

Arsenal would clearly be underdogs if they were to face Atletico. Gunners fans can only dream of such defensive solidity and discipline from their team. Arsene Wenger’s men have conceded 43 goals in 32 games this season, nearly three times as many as Atletico. They would be all but certain to concede against Griezmann and Costa, so it would be down to their attack to pick holes in an extremely tight Atletico defence. Signs are relatively encouraging. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is sadly cup tied, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is injured and may not make it back before the end of the season, but Mesut Ozil has been majestic in recent weeks and Alexandre Lacazette has returned to form and fitness at the perfect time of year. Even Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi played well in Sunday’s madcap 3-2 win over Southampton – the most un-Atletico Madrid performance you are ever likely to see – so there is a chance that they could unlock Simeone’s defence. They have defied the odds before, such as beating Chelsea in last season’s cup final, so you never know, but they will need to tighten up defensively and be extremely clinical in front of goal if they are to stand a chance.

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