The tie against AC Milan in the Europa League Last 16 seemed to mark the end of the ‘phoney war’ in the competition for Arsenal. Part of the shift in gear in Europe was of course down to the malaise of the Gunners in the league, leaving Arsène Wenger with no option but to put every effort into conquering the Europa League.
Step one was achieved with victory in both against the fallen Italian giants, whereas Wenger should undoubtedly be happy with the quarter-final pairing with CSKA Moscow. Despite the fact it will be a rather anxious trip to Moscow – given the political tensions between Russia and the UK recently – most Gunners fans will expect to see their team’s name in the semi-final draw.
Below is the quarter-final draw, with ties to be played on the 5th and 12th of April:
Arsenal vs. CSKA Moscow
Atlético Madrid vs. Sporting Lisbon
Lazio vs. Red Bull Salzburg
RB Leipzig vs. Marseille
Wenger will have been happy to avoid Spanish Giants
You would expect Wenger to have been happy to avoid Atlético in the draw. The Spanish side have been imperious in the competition ever since coming in from the Champions League group stages. They hammered Lokomotiv Moscow – a side who leads CSKA by eight points at the top of the Russian Premier League – 8-1 on aggregate in the Last 16. Lazio and Leipzig would also have represented tricky opponents.
As you might expect, Atlético have been made outright favourites to win the Europa League. However, Arsenal are not far behind in the odds. The latest betting from Bet365 is shown below. Before you bet, click here to check out no deposit offers for UK bookmakers:
Atlético Madrid 11/8
RB Leipzig 9/1
RB Salzburg 16/1
Sporting Lisbon 25/1
CSKA Moscow 33/1
As you can see, CSKA have been made rank outsiders to win the tournament. Although, Arsenal fans should not take anything for granted: Their win against Lyon in the Last 16 was impressive, as were the home and away victories against Benfica in the Champions League group stage, where they finished 3rd behind Manchester United and Basel.
Gap in quality will have to be exposed by Arsenal
But, even when taking into consideration the Gunners’ erratic form recently, most neutrals would agree that Arsenal should have too much quality for CSKA Moscow. It is going to be an important to take a healthy cushion to Russia however, with there being every chance of a hostile atmosphere at the VEB Arena due to the political climate. Should Arsenal go there with any less than a lead of a couple of goals, you could see the occasion becoming precarious for Wenger’s men.
Without looking too far ahead, Wenger must be thinking about Atlético to some degree. He will know that they are the two best teams left in the competition, although Lazio are a free-scoring side who have flourished under Simone Inzaghi. However, Arsenal vs Atlético is the final that everyone will wan to see. Should they both get through these rounds and avoid each other in the semis, there is a fair prospect of it happening. In fact, the bookmakers have gone as low as 4/1 for those two to clash in Lyon on 16th May.
One step at a time however, and all roads to glory must go through Moscow first. Wenger and the players will need to get it right, because there is nothing else left to hope for this season.