Arsenal will face Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals of the Europa League after surviving a scare to come from two goals down to draw 2-2 against CSKA Moscowon Thursday night.
It will be a first European semi-final in nine years for Arsène Wenger’s side, who will play the first leg at the Emirates on 26 April before the return leg on 3 May. Marseille and Salzburg were paired together in the other semi-final.
The competition remains Arsenal’s salvation this season because it represents their only chance of winning silverware and is their only realistic opportunity of qualifying for the Champions League given their poor domestic form. Arsenal are sixth in the Premier League, 13 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
The striker Alexandre Lacazette believes winning the Europa League would “save” Arsenal’s season and could lead to Wenger staying on for another year. Asked about the significance of the competition and his manager’s future, which appears to be intrinsically linked with the Europa League, Lacazette replied: “It will save our season because in the Premier League we are not doing well. Winning a cup would be good. It can be the way to keep the manager because he did so much good for the club.”
With the final taking place in Lyon, where Lacazette made 275 appearances for his hometown club before joining Arsenal for £46.5m last summer, the Frenchman has extra motivation to get through the semi-final. “I really want to be in the final to play in front of my family and friends,” he said. “But it’s not only that – I came to Arsenal because I want to win trophies.”
Petr Cech, who endured a difficult night against CSKA before Arsenal eventually advanced 6-3 on aggregate, admitted the players are under pressure to deliver Europa League success because of the prize that is on offer. “You can feel it,” the goalkeeper said. “There is a big responsibility for everyone because we know with the position we are in the league, it is difficult.
“Someone would have to have a big meltdown to give us a chance to sneak into the top four through the league. We know this is our chance to book our Champions League spot but not only that, you play a European competition for a cup and for a cup the club has never won. This is another opportunity to add a great trophy to the cabinet.”