London: Arsenal’s hopes of sending outgoing manager Arsene Wenger off with a trophy suffered a major blow as they could only draw 1-1 with 10-man Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final last night.
The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card handing them the initiative.
However, they were made to rue a host of missed chances before and after Alexandre Lacazette headed them in front on the hour mark.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was also sent to the stands shortly after Vrsaljko’s dismissal, but the Spaniards resisted manfully and pounced when their chance came as Antoine Griezmann prodded home a vital away goal eight minutes from time.
Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week if Wenger’s last game in charge is to be the final in his homeland in Lyon on May 16.
Moreover, Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football next season also hang on becoming the first side other than Real Madrid to eliminate Atletico from Europe for five seasons.
Meanwhile, Olympique de Marseille’s Dimitri Payet set up both goals as he guided them to an impressive 2-0 home win over Salzburg in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday.
Florian Thauvin headed in Payet’s free kick after 15 minutes and Clinton Njie calmly slotted home in the 63rd to put Marseille in the driving seat against the Austrian champions.
Payet, making a late bid for a place in France’s World Cup squad with an impressive run of form, has played a key role in Marseille’s run to the last four with five assists and three goals in the knockout stages.
Marseille were quick out of the blocks and Thauvin scored with his 22nd goal of the season, outsmarting his marker to head in Payet’s free kick at the far post.
Marseille stopped the Austrian champions from imposing their usual pressing game and increased their lead just past the hour.
This time Payet was sent clear down the left, cut inside and waited for his moment to lay the ball into the path of Cameroonian Njie who slotted past goalkeeper Alexander Walke.
The goal came just as the visitors seemed to be getting back into the game and a few minutes after Marseille keeper Yohann Pele did well to tip Hannes Wolf’s shot over the bar.
The visitors should have had an away goal near the end but substitute Gulbrandsen struck the post with a volley from close range to leave them with a tough job in the return on May 3.