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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Arsenal can ask questions of weakened Atletico Madrid defence

Extra-time a possibility with close contest on the cards

Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates after scoring against Atletico Madrid
1 of 1

Europa League semi-final second leg
BT Sport 2, 8.05pm Thursday

Arsene Wenger could not hide his disappointment after Arsenal failed to beat ten-man Atletico Madrid at the Emirates last Thursday, drawing 1-1, but the tie remains wide open and it could go the distance in the return leg.

Arsenal need to score, which is far from a straightforward task given Atletico have not conceded in any of their last 11 home fixtures.

But they caused Atletico a lot of problems in the first leg and were the better side in the ten minutes before right-back Sime Vrsaljko was red carded.

Vrsaljko misses the second leg through suspension, further disrupting an Atletico defence weakened by the absence of injured full backs Filipe Luis and Juanfran.

Atletico can call on their first choice centre-backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez  plus world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who kept his team the tie in north London with an outstanding save from Aaron Ramsay's late header.

But Arsenal were getting down the sides of their defence far too easily and should have made more of their dominance - they won the shot count 28 to six and had a 76 per cent share of possession.

It will be tougher for Arsenal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, where Atletico are unbeaten in 17 La Liga matches this season.

Atletico will play more on the front foot and their attacking capabilities are enhanced with Diego Costa expected to make his second start since recovering from a hamstring strain.

Costa was an unused substitute in the first leg and played for just an hour of Atletico's 1-0 victory at Alaves on Sunday.

Antoine Griezmann was rested altogether for the Alaves match but is likely to resume his partnership with Costa for the first time in three weeks.

Costa hasn't been a prolific scorer this season - netting four times in 16 games - but his physical style of play has complemented Griezmann's game, allowing the Frenchman more space to run at defenders and get sights of goal.

This season the duo have started just 11 La Liga games together but those matches have generated 12 of Griezmann's 19-goal tally.

Arsenal's defence face a busier night's work but it is likely to be a balanced game with the Gunners looking to attack at every opportunity.

The Londoners should be well rested after Wenger made wholesale changes for the 2-1 loss at Manchester United on Sunday.

Europa League stats

La Liga standings

Premier League standings

And they are spearheaded by a confident Alexandre Lacazette, who is starting to show why Arsenal paid more than £50m for his services.

Lacazette's first English winter was disrupted by a combination of injury problems and deteriorating confidence.

But the 26-year-old has looked a more dynamic player since recovering from a knee operation and his superb first-leg header against Atletico was his seventh goal in seven matches.

Lacazette poses a huge danger to Atletico's weakened defence and should not be short of service with Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere seeking to provide the killer pass.

Chelsea triumphed at Atletico in the Champions League group stage, snatching a deserved 2-1 win with an injury-time Michy Batshuayi strike.

Atletico are faced with another testing match against dangerous London opposition and it could go either way.

Extra-time looks a big runner but the 0-0 and 2-2 draws are also strong possibilities in a contest which could be all square after normal time.

1pt 14-5 bet365, Betfred

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Team news
Atletico Madrid
Diego Costa is fully recovered from a hamstring injury and should start. Sime Vrsaljko is suspended and Juanfran (hamstring) and Filipe Luis (broken leg) miss out.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible and Mohamed Elneny (ankle) misses out. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee) picked up a knock during the 2-1 loss at Manchester United but should make the squad. Sead Kolasinac (ankle) is a doubt.

Key stat
Arsenal have scored in their last six away games.

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Arsenal were getting down the sides of their defence far too easily and should have made more of their dominance
E.W. Terms
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