Diego Costa ensured Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign as Arsenal manager will end in Huddersfield and not Lyon as the former Chelsea man hit the winner for Atletico Madrid in a closely fought Europa League semi-final.
Wenger announced last month that he will step down at the end of the season, a campaign now set to end in bitter disappointment and with no silverware following a 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The Gunners lost captain Laurent Koscielny early on, reportedly with a torn Achilles, and the visitors’ night got worse on the stroke of half-time when Costa notched the goal that secured a 2-1 aggregate win for Diego Simeone’s side.
Costa was an unused substitute in London as he recovered from injury, but he more than anyone has exposed the weak underbelly of the Arsenal defence which has undermined Wenger’s final years at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal are likely to finish sixth in the Premier League – their lowest under Wenger – and the new manager will inherit a side not in the Champions League.
This competition offered the chance of a final trophy for the 68-year-old, who took charge of his 250th European game, but it will be Europa League football for Wenger’s
replacement, with the outgoing boss now set to say his goodbye after the final league game of the season at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium.
Early nerves showed for the visitors as David Ospina and Shkodran Mustafi bundled into one another to win an uncontested cross.
Costa, so often a thorn in the side of Arsenal during his time at Stamford Bridge, knew just how to rile the defence, bullying his way through the back line before firing wide.
Arsenal’s rearguard suffered a blow inside the opening eight minutes as Koscielny was carried off on a stretcher, clearly in agony having gone down off the ball clutching his ankle and thumping the turf.
Wenger’s side enjoyed plenty of the ball but could not muster a shot on goal in the first half, Alexandre Lacazette’s heavy touch taking him away from goal after a slide-rule pass from Aaron Ramsey got him in behind.
The hosts appeared content to allow Arsenal the lion’s share of the ball and looked to hit on the counter-attack, with Koke and Antoine Griezmann both firing wide as the first half wore on.
Madrid were ahead in first-half stoppage time, Griezmann sliding a pass into the run of Costa, who left Hector Bellerin in his wake before converting past Ospina.
Ramsey almost found a route through to Jan Oblak’s goal but could only send a weak effort wide having been fortunate to collect a fluffed Jack Wilshere strike.
Costa was still causing trouble at the other end, all too easily bustling past two challenges before being shut down as he looked to shoot.
Oblak was finally forced into a meaningful save as he tipped Granit Xhaka’s low driver behind, with Mustafi heading the resulting corner over the crossbar.
Wenger introduced Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a struggling Wilshere and the man who scored in the final for Manchester United last season was soon in the thick of the action as he thrashed a shot inches over the top.
Costa hobbled off with eight minutes remaining to be replaced by another ex-Chelsea marksman in Fernando Torres, who drew a smart save out of Ospina late on.
Arsenal piled forward but Atletico kept their defensive discipline, which has now seen them go 12 home games without conceding, to clinch their place in the May 16 final.
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