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Mesut Ozil must deliver in big game as Arsenal plot Atletico downfall

Arsene Wenger said Arsenal's missed chances in their draw with Atletico leaves a 'bitter taste' after the side had 'chances to be in the final.'

Arsenal will undoubtedly go into Thursday night's second leg of their Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid with a tinge of regret.

With the Spanish side reduced to 10 men after just 10 minutes of their first encounter, and then having manager Diego Simeone sent to the stands a few minutes later, there was a real opportunity to be ruthless and take a solid advantage to Madrid.

Instead, they struggled to break down their opponents, and although Alexandre Lacazette gave them the lead, a late defensive calamity allowed Antoine Griezmann to equalise, grabbing a valuable away goal. The Gunners should have done more with the first leg, but although Atletico are now clear favourites, this is a tie that is far from over.

Arsene Wenger's team selection will likely see him field more or less the same side that played at the Emirates last Thursday. If Henrikh Mkhitaryan is fit, he could come into the side in place of Jack Wilshere, but the Arsenal manager may decide to keep some attacking quality on the bench should it be needed later in the game.

It's difficult to know exactly how they'll approach this game. What's clear is that they need to score, and while it would be sensible to perhaps focus on keeping things tight defensively for the first hour or so, this is not Arsenal's strength.

Even against 10 men last week they managed to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot, and with a fit again Diego Costa -- so often a scourge in the Premier League when he played for Chelsea -- lining up with Griezmann, there will be more for them to deal with at the back.

An interesting part of this tie is that a goal for the home side doesn't change things that much. The Gunners have to score, one way or the other, so if they go behind it's not exactly a fatal blow. Whether that then has an impact on how Atletico play remains to be seen.

We knew before last week they're defensively strong and brilliantly organised, but the way they reacted to playing most of the game a man light shows they're probably capable of strangling the life out of the tie if they so decided.

Mesut Ozil was criticised for his performance in Arsenal's first-leg draw with Atletico Madrid.
Mesut Ozil was criticised for his performance in Arsenal's first-leg draw with Atletico Madrid.

However, Arsenal's need to score means there will likely be chances to counterattack, and the Londoners are a team definitely brittle against opposition who can do that effectively. Wenger's men would be wise not to leave too much space too early, but realistically their best chance of going through is to attack.

With Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and the creativity of Mesut Ozil, they do have the potential to cause Atletico problems.

The German, in particular, is someone Arsenal need to have to have a strong game. He was criticised in the first leg despite creating six goal-scoring chances, but there is sometimes a sense that he could impose himself in big games more.

For Arsenal, and Wenger, games don't get much bigger than this. A European final is the prize for victory, and if they win that the trophy and Champions League football next season would ensure a disappointing campaign domestically ended with continental success.

Ozil should be key to that. His quality is not in dispute, and creative players are often at the mercy of their supporting cast, but in order to overcome their defensive frailties, the Gunners need their attacking talents to be at the top of their game.

The former Real Madrid man should relish a return to Spain to face an old local rival, so with Lacazette scoring regularly since his comeback and Ramsey's ability to deliver when the stakes are high, they shouldn't feel inferior.

They made life more difficult for themselves than it should have been with the way they failed to manage the first leg, but as a club Arsenal rarely do it the easy way.

The challenge now is to rise to the occasion and pull off a result that would give Wenger a shot at a fairytale ending on home soil in Lyon on May 16.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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