Arsenal face the pivotal moment of their season when they travel to the Spanish capital to face Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final today.
Forward Antoine Griezmann’s late equaliser in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium last week completely changed the complexion of the tie as it gave the 10-man LaLiga side a crucial away goal.
The Gunners now have the daunting task of scoring at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, where Atletico have conceded just four league goals this season, if they are to deny the home side a place in the final in Lyon on May 16.
And, to compound matters, Diego Costa – a chief tormentor of Arsenal’s backline during his time with former club Chelsea – looks set to be unleashed from the outset.
The Spain striker was only fit enough to make the bench in north London, but Costa got through Sunday’s 1-0 league win over Alaves without any issues and will likely take the place of Kevin Gameiro to line up alongside Griezmann.
Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard believes his return will be a key factor.
“Costa is exactly the sort of personality that is missing from the Arsenal dressing room – someone with a winning mentality,” he told the Evening Standard.
“That is why I fear for Arsenal on Thursday night. We know that Arsenal defenders don’t like being manhandled or strong-armed, and Costa is a master at that. He has played well against them before in a Chelsea shirt.”
Atletico will, however, have to shuffle the pack with Thomas Partey expected to fill in for suspended right-back Sime Vrsaljko.
Arsenal will be boosted by the availability of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has shaken off a knock he picked up in the 1-2 Premier League loss to Manchester United on Sunday.
Winning the Europa League represents the Gunners’ only chance of playing in the Champions League next season, while Arsene Wenger is aiming to sign off his nearly 22 years in charge with his first European trophy.
However, Arsenal’s away form does not invite optimism given that they are the only team in England’s top-four football tiers yet to win on their travels this year.