Arsene Wenger took the bench for his 250th European game: but while there could have been one more to give Arsene Wenger a fairytale ending to his time as Arsenal manager, it never really looked like happening.
The Frenchman’s side only needed a goal to take their Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid to extra-time and despite a brave showing were only able to muster one shot on target throughout 90 minutes as the Lyon final and Wenger’s final hurrah escaped the Gunners at a chilly Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Diego Simeone was banished to the directors box following his touchline ban in the first leg yet the instructions to his team were clear for all to see; contain the runs from Arsenal’s full-backs, block off the penetrative midfield runs from Aaron Ramsey which caused Simeone’s side so many issues in the first leg and ensure Diego Costa gets in the faces of the north Londoners defence.
In reality,the Argentine boss didn’t need to formulate a tactical masterplan as the opposition rarely threatened with an intense spell of play to cause his team problems.
An early injury Laurent Koscielny, which was later confirmed as a torn Achilles, means the Frenchman will miss the World Cup. It was a horrible blow for a defender has played through the pain barrier for over a year, culminating in what could be his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt with defenders already being looked at for the summer.
Indeed, it was former Chelsea striker Costa who came back to haunt Wenger’s men when he scored after being slipped through by Antoine Griezmann. It could have been different if Ramsey converted an opportunity just minutes after the restart but it wasn’t to be for Arsenal against a typically disciplined Atleti team who restricted them to few chances.
Wenger leaves Arsenal without winning a European trophy yet it shouldn’t have been that way. Regrets over the 2006 final against Barcelona will still be fresh in his mind and the first leg performance at home to Atleti was a case of wasted opportunities with Danny Welbeck unable to capitalise on an uncharacteristically poor display from Simeone’s side.
The irony is that the football from Wenger’s side over both legs was impressive at times but the lack of aggression going forward and inability to shoot when put in the right positions came back to bite Arsenal.
Wholesale changes are needed this summer and while the manager is one part of a major rebuilding process at Emirates Stadium, it’s clear that surgery is needed across the pitch.