An expectant Emirates Stadium enjoyed an early onslaught from the Gunners in Arsene Wenger's final European home match and Atletico right-back Sime Vrsaljko haphazardly collecting two yellow cards inside the opening 10 minutes placed further onus on the hosts.
Atleti's famously miserly backline played without direction from boss Diego Simeone, who was sent to the stands by referee Clement Turpin, having refused to curtail his protests following Vrsaljko's dismissal.
They managed to hold out until the 61st-minute, when Alexandre Lacazette expertly directed Jack Wilshere's cross beyond Jan Oblak.
Simeone's men had virtually disappeared as an attacking force in the closing stages but an ever-alert Griezmann preyed upon shoddy work from Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny to bear down on goal, find the roof of the net and entirely alter the complexion of an absorbing tie.
9 - Antoine Griezmann has been directly involved in nine goals in European competition in 2017/18 (six goals and three assists); his most ever in a single season. Lifeline. pic.twitter.com/89dKAkpZvT— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 26, 2018
Atleti made a sloppy start in keeping with their recent wobbles in LaLiga as Wilshere intercepted a slack pass from Jose Gimenez and Vrsaljko was booked for crudely bringing down the England midfielder with 75 seconds on the clock.
Lacazette volleyed wastefully wide from Danny Welbeck's excellent cross before Oblak sharply kept out a header from the France striker.
Both opportunities arrived down Vrsaljko's flank and his torment would soon be curtailed as Lacazette touched the ball clear of the Croatia international, who trod on his ankle.
9 - Sime Vrsaljko has received both the fastest yellow card (1:15) and second yellow card (9:09) in the Europa League this season. Bath. pic.twitter.com/1GeBSL0NW2— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 26, 2018
The two bookings seemed entirely justified, although not in Simeone's eyes. The Atleti boss howled for punishment when Hector Bellerin brought down Lucas Hernandez in the 13th minute and Turpin decided he had heard enough.
Arsenal's early pressure was duly ramped up, with Atletico captain Diego Godin bravely blocking from Welbeck before Oblak denied the England forward with his boot.
From the resulting 21st-minute corner, Koscielny hooked over at the back post from Lacazette's flick-on.
Atleti were now consumed with one of their famed European rearguards but the mercurial Griezmann almost beat David Ospina in the 37th minute following Thomas Partey's driving run.
Arsenal resumed with the lion's share of possession after the interval but Atleti's defensive obduracy generally drove them down blind alleys.
Just as they appeared to be running out of ideas, the home side hit the front – Griezmann was hustled out of possession on the edge of his own box and the ball was worked to Wilshere, who hung an astute cross up to the back post where Lacazette's finish was of a similar calibre.
Experienced holding midfielder Gabi came on for striker Kevin Gameiro as Atletico made it clear damage limitation was their priority, but there was time for Griezmann to atone for his earlier mistake.
The 27-year-old was alive to the possibilities of a hopeful punt forward, startling countryman Koscielny into an untimely slip, shooting against Ospina and flicking into the roof of the net via the similarly prone Shkodran Mustafi.
Aaron Ramsey's flying header forced Oblak's best save of a busy night as the clock ticked down but Wenger's hopes of a golden farewell have suffered a considerable blow.
Key Opta Facts:
- Arsenal have lost just one of their eight semi-final first legs in European competition (W4 D3), while they've progressed from the tie on every previous occasion they've avoided a first leg defeat.
- Arsene Wenger faced his 125th different opponent as Arsenal boss in this match. He has suffered defeat in the first game against a team on only 10 occasions.
- The Gunners have scored 30 goals in the Europa League this season; their joint-most in a European campaign, after netting the same amount in 1999-2000 when they competed in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup.
- Atletico have lost just two of their last nine semi-final games in European competition (W5 D2), while Diego Simeone is yet to lose a European away game in England while in charge of the club (W1 D3).
- Since the start of last season, Alexandre Lacazette has scored 53 goals in all competitions; the joint-most of any Frenchman in the Top 5 European Leagues (alongside Antoine Griezmann).
- Lacazette has scored three goals in three semi-final appearances in the Europa League – only Falcao (7) and Kevin Gameiro (4) have scored more at this stage of the competition.