In an odd way, once the Spanish giants of Atletico Madrid joined the Europa League after finishing 3rd in their Champions’ League Group, it felt destined that they would have to face up against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

The two sides were the top 2 favourite teams to win the competition going into the Round of 32, and it seemed like it was inevitable that the two sides would have to meet at some stage to decide who would potentially come out as victors in the competition.

The time has nearly arrived, as Diego Simeone’s side make their way to North London to face up against an in-form and energised Arsenal side at the Emirates Stadium.

The news of Arsene Wenger’s departure at the close of the season has added to the already huge importance of the Europa League in Arsenal’s season. As if Champions League qualification after a poor league showing wasn’t a big enough incentive, it also represents the perfect way to close the book on the Frenchman’s 22-year tenure at the club.

Perhaps surprisingly going into the game, it is Arsenal who are the form team, especially at home. The Gunners have won their past 6 games at the Emirates Stadium and have scored 3+ goals in each of these games.

With the exception of the loss at Newcastle united 2 weekends ago, Arsenal have won 7 of their last 8 games, the other game being the 2-2 away draw in the second leg of the Europa League quarter final against CSKA Moscow.

Last weekend seen a 4-1 victory over West Ham United in the league, and after a slow first half seen a dominant end to the game, with 3 goals in the final 10 minutes. This made for some good momentum in anticipation of the visit of Simeone’s side.

Madrid’s recent performances have been in contrast to Arsenal, surprisingly, in that they haven’t been particularly good.

The team currently sat 2nd in La Liga ahead of city neighbours and Champions League Semi-finalists Real Madrid have seen a downturn in their stellar form over the past few weeks.

The previous tie in this competition ended with a 2-1 aggregate win against Sporting Lisbon, but this included a very poor showing in a 1-0 away loss in the second leg that could have been a lot worse.

A few days later Simeone’s men put in a fine display against Levante at the Wanda Metropolitano that seen them run out with an easy 3-0 victory, but just 4 days later they were absolutely dismantled by Real Sociedad by the same scoreline.

The most recent game was a fairly dire 0-0 draw against Real Betis at home, that wasn’t exactly the best precursor to this semi-final match-up. In their last 4 games, Atleti have won 1, drawn 1 and lost 2 – scoring 4 goals and conceding 5 across the games, so not amazing form and perhaps a chink in quite powerful armour.

In terms of team news, Wenger will be hoping that the 3 players who were dropped for the West Ham game will be fit in time, namely Jack Wilshire and Mesut Ozil in midfield and Petr Cech in goals. Sead Kolasinac is also back in the squad after minor complaints.

Unavailable for the game is Henrikh Mkitaryan, although Wenger has expressed hope that the Armenian could be fit for the second leg – great news considering it looked likely his season was effectively over.

One man whose season is over sadly is Mohamed Elneny, who had to leave the field early at the weekend, with the manager saying in his pre-match press conference that it was likely that Elneny would return to fitness in time for the World Cup with Egypt, but is likely to miss the remainder of the club campaign.

As has been the case since he joined, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be unable to play due to being cup-tied in the competition.

The opposition appear to have gotten a major lift in their own team news, with Diego Costa – who had previously been labelled with “no chance” of making the squad due to a hamstring injury sustained against Lisbon – being named in the 20-man roster.

Costa has scored six goals in 18 games since his move from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea after being frozen out for a half year, and has really added something to the side he made his name at, providing Antoine Griezmann some much needed assistance up-front.

Out for the match is Spanish and former Chelsea full-back Juanfran, who misses the game due to a hamstring injury.

The aforementioned Griezmann presents Atletico’s main threat, and quite the threat it is. The Frenchman is one of the most sought-after players around the globe, and with good reason – is striking capabilities are frightening.

As of late Arsenal haven’t been too bad on the striking front themselves, and credit must go to Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, who have all chimed in with goals as of late. The trio and the rest of their teammates will be striving to find the net against the Spanish side, particularly in the home leg.

With the second leg taking place in the Wanda Metropolitano, there is an extra impotence on the Gunners to go out and get goals in this game while also keeping Madrid at bay so they do not register any potentially lethal away goals.

It will prove to be a difficult test – perhaps Arsenal’s harshest one of the season thus far – but to win this competition and give Wenger the ideal ending to his tenure, they will need to break down Simeone’s Madrid.

Arsenal play Atletico Madrid in the Semi-Final of the Europa League on Thursday the 26th of April, with kick-off at the Emirates Stadium scheduled for 8.05pm British time.