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Arsenal v Atletico: Frustrating Draw Against 10-Man Madrid

The first leg of Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final tie with Atletico Madrid ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw after what was a fine performance up until the latter stages. Alexandre Lacazette opened the scoring with a header just after the hour mark, and even though his side were dominant throughout, one major error meant that honours were even at full time.Arsenal were entering this game understandably nervous considering the huge importance of their performances in the Europa League at this stage, but they were put at ease following the remarkable opening 12 minutes. Both Atletico Madrid right-back Sime Vrsaljko and manager Diego Simeone found themselves removed from proceedings before the game even had a chance to find its flow. You would be doing well to find as quick of two-carded sending off anywhere across the world. Vrsaljko – playing at right-back in the place of the injured Juanfran – made his way into the referee’s book after just 2 minutes for a careless tackle on Jack Wilshire after only 2 minutes. Just 8 minutes later, when one would imagine he would have been trying to keep a low-profile, the defender went in on a 50/50 challenge with Lacazette. The referee made his decision – a second yellow, Vrsaljko was off.His manager – known for his touchline passion – did not react to his players dismissal overly well, and his remonstrations led to his own instruction to leave the field shortly after.The television cameras regularly reverted to the crowd towards an increasingly anxious looking Simeone, pacing around. With some of the best attacking talent in the world at his disposal, he will not have wanted to completely park the bus in this first leg, but once his player was given his marching orders, this became the case. Both before and after the removals, Jan Oblak in the Atletico goal was being tested, and he was completely up to the challenge, denying efforts from Lacazette and Danny Welbeck.It may sound odd, but being down to 10 men almost suited Atletico in the first half. They were happy to let Arsenal have the ball while they remained a solid unit at the back.Half-time arrived without much notable incidents following the red card, but the home side were clearly the more in-control of the two. They ended the first 45 with 15 shots – the most they have had without scoring since against Manchester United in December 2017. On that day David De Gea played one of his finest games; on this game, it was very much looking like the same could be said for Oblak.With just over 60 minutes played, Arsenal found themselves in-front. After some nice passing play in the build-up, Jack Wilshire was played into space out wide on the left and managed to place a lovely cross into the box. Lacazette jumped high at the back post and nodded the ball downwards and finally past Oblak to make it 3 goals in 3 games for him and 1-0 on the night.In the immediacy after Arsenal’s goal, there dominance in the match only improved. Lacazette was clearly buzzing with confidence, geeing up the crowd before a corner before glancing a header just wise following the resulting cross.The Frenchman also teased in a wonderfully inviting ball across the Atleti penalty area towards Danny Welbeck, who only barely missed it to make it 2-0.Possession was generally better than could have been hoped – going into the last quarter an hour, the Gunners held over 70% of the ball, and this was clear to see.Atletico then made it 1-1 in incredibly frustrating circumstances. After barely making it into the Gunners final 3rd for 35 minutes, the defence was split open. Danny Welbeck appeared to be fouled running down the flank, but no free was given. A looped ball was then made into the Arsenal half, with Laurent Koscielny looking the favourite ahead of his compatriot Antoine Griezmann.Then, perhaps misreading it, Koscielny appeared to miss the ball, allowing Griezmann a chance. Ospina rushed out, with Shkrodan Mustafi covering behind him. Griezmann got the best of Ospina, and then deftly chipped a ball over Mustafi, who also appeared to misread what was happening.It really was a terrible goal to concede after what had been an impressive performance up to that point. One defensive lapse of concentration meant the scores were even and Madrid were taking an away goal into the second leg.Just after the goal, the atmosphere drained out of the Emirates, but was nearly very quickly reinvigorated when Aaron Ramsey blasted a powerful header at Jan Oblak, who once more managed to parry wonderfully. There was another Ramsey header before the final whistle, but the momentum had gone. Arsenal dominated every calculatable statistic, but in the end, it meant for naught. 1-1, full-time. Somehow, despite having 10 men for 80 minutes of the game, Madrid are taking the advantage of an away goal into the second leg. For large portions of the game it was hard to fault Arsene Wenger’s side – they were knocking on the door and playing good passing football. But one lapse was enough to cost them, as has been the case on regular occasions this season. In the other semi-final, Marseille ran out 2-0 winners against Red Bull Salzburg, putting them in prime position to reach the final of the competition.If Arsenal want to be there as well, they’re going to have to do it the hard way. The Wanda Metropolitano was always going to be an intimidating prospect, so it’s a real shame that the Gunners aren’t bringing some form of an advantage there. They will need to score at least one goal – most likely more – if they are to find their way to the Europa League final.