The Arsene Wenger farewell roadshow began with a win against West Ham, as it was always likely to. The Gunners have now played 13 home games against teams currently below them in the table in 2017/18, and they’ve won every time. Moyes’ boys were lambs to the inevitable slaughter.
Atletico Madrid will be an entirely different kettle of pescado. Diego Simeone’s side are veterans of the latter stages of European competitions, having now reached a semi-final in five of his seven seasons in charge. Atleti are more accustomed to the Champions League these days, but they have won this trophy twice in the last decade.
Arsenal are in their first European semi-final since 2009. Their seasonal trend since then had been well established for many years; get through their Champions League group, go out in the last 16 as soon as they play somebody half decent, and scrape home in fourth place in the league. Rinse and repeat. They’ve broken the trend of finishing in the top four, so will this be the year they also get past someone good in Europe?
If the Gooners are to reach the final, they’re probably going to have to get the bulk of the job done on Thursday, as their away record has been woeful this season. They might have won at AC Milan, but so did Serie A basement boys Benevento last weekend.
Paddy thinks the home side will win here, as they are narrow 6/4 favourites, and I’m inclined to agree. Atletico Madrid have lost four of their last six away matches, and while that includes trips to Barcelona and Real, it’s not easy to switch form on when you need it.
They will also be without Diego Costa, which will please Arsenal fans.
The Brazilian Spaniard has scored three goals in six games against them in the past, including the winner at the Emirates in 2016. With him absent, who’s going to provide Atleti’s goal threat?
Antoine Griezmann is the obvious answer. Could it be that a Frenchman will effectively draw the Arsene Wenger era to a close? He has scored 26 goals in all competitions this season, with 10 coming away from home. In La Liga, only Suárez, Messi and, er, Iago Aspas have scored more goals on the road than he has. Griezmann is the 7/2 favourite to open the scoring, or 13/10 to net at any time.
The obvious choice on the Arsenal team is Alexandre Lacazette. The former Lyon man is in good form, with seven goals in his last ten appearances for the club. Perhaps crucially from a betting perspective, 12 of his 15 goals this season have been scored at the Emirates, so he looks like a decent option here.
Lacazette is the 5/1 second favourite to break the deadlock, but it’s worth noting only four of his 15 goals have been openers, so perhaps the 15/8 on offer for him to score a goal at any point is a better choice.
It’s probably wise not to expect too many goals in total, as Simeone’s side are masters of keeping away games tight.
They may have rattled in the goals at Copenhagen and Lokomotiv Moscow earlier in this competition, but their three away games in the 2017/18 Champions League saw a pair of scoreless draws and a 1-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Their three games at the rest of La Liga’s top four only saw a total of three goals too, so it definitely looks like Thursday’s match will feature under 2.5 goals. The odds for that are 4/6, and for the first time ever in this column, I wouldn’t rule out under 1.5 goals either, which is available at 11/5.
Atleti have been involved in the joint-most La Liga games over the past two seasons which saw one goal at most, so don’t say I didn’t warn you if this turns out to be a bore draw. Marseille vs. Salzburg will be on somewhere if you fancy some actual entertainment.
So should we expect at least one team to draw a blank here? Paddy doesn’t think so, though there isn’t much difference in the odds in truth.
As with the total goals in games, Atleti are the side who see the fewest Spanish top flight matches where both teams score; it has only happened in three of their last 13 league games away from the Wanda Metropolitano.
However, in European knock-out ties the picture isn’t so clear-cut. Both teams have scored in six of Los Rojiblancos’ nine away matches over the past three seasons.
They have been away from home in five of the first legs, with both teams finding the net in three of those games.
Arsenal have both scored and conceded in their three Europa League knock-out matches at home in 2017/18 too, so I’ll be betting on ‘yes’ in the both teams to score market, at 8/11.
With a prediction of fewer than three goals and both teams to score, it sounds like a 1-1 draw is in prospect, wouldn’t you say? That’s available at 5/1, and probably worth a few pennies. Atletico Madrid are already 4/9 favourites to qualify from the tie, and that will only shorten if they do head home with a score draw.
Whatever happens, this is Wenger’s last European match at the Emirates, and his first home game in charge of Arsenal in continental competition ended in a 1-1 draw. If that’s not proof this match will too, I don’t know what is. Au revoir, Monsieur Wenger.