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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Arsenal drawn to face Atletico Madrid in Europa League semifinal

Arsenal will face Atletico Madrid later this month in their first appearance in the Europa League semifinals since 2000, while Marseille will face Salzburg.

A 2-2 draw against CSKA Moscow in Russia on Thursday allowed Arsenal to advance 6-3 on aggregate as they the automatic Champions League qualification granted to the winner of the competition.

Atletico Madrid, the champions in 2010 and 2012, knocked out Sporting Lisbon despite a 1-0 defeat on Thursday because of a 2-0 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano in the first leg.

The semifinal first leg will be on April 26 at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, with the return on May 3 at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano, and the winner going forward to the final in Lyon on May 16.

Marseille, who will host the first leg of their semifinal against Salzburg, moved on to the semifinals for the first time since 2004 by overturning a 1-0 defeat against RB Leipzig with a 5-2 home victory on Thursday.

Salzburg are back in the semifinals for the first time since 1994, when they lost in the final against Inter Milan. After a 4-2 first-leg deficit, they knocked Lazio out of the competition on Thursday with a 4-1 home victory at home.

Speaking after Thursday's match in Moscow, when at one point Arsenal had been a goal away from elimination, manager Arsene Wenger admitted he would have preferred to avoid Atletico.

"Looking at all the results as a whole picture in Europe this week, you would say that teams have become closer and the games are very open and everything is possible in every single game," Wenger said.

"Everybody speaks about Atletico Madrid that they look the strongest team on paper, but you must say when you look at the results that Salzburg have done again ... I am from France and Marseille are in there as well and that is always a difficult place to go ... maybe it is better that I don't wish for anybody."

Atletico director Clemente Villaverde said the draw gave a "very open tie" with it impossible to say in advance which side are favourites to progress.

Champions League finalists in 2014 and 2016, Atletico have been seen by many -- including their own midfielder Koke -- as favourites to win the Europa League for a third time in eight years as they made steady progress through the competition, although they did suffer a scare in Thursday's last eight second leg at Sporting.

Speaking after Friday's draw paired Atletico with Arsenal for the clubs' first meeting in a competitive fixture, the former Atletico player told BeIN Sports that he was expecting a difficult tie.

"At this stage of the competition all games are difficult, big rivals and if the draw wanted us against Arsenal, then we'll take that," Villaverde said. "They are a great team up there for many years in their league and going far in European competition. They are a rival very similar to us. It is a very open tie at 50/50 over two legs, which could be very different."

Asked whether it was an advantage to play the return game at home, Villaverde said it was impossible to say in advance.

"You never know," he said. "Until we have always had the first leg at home [this season] and we have gone through in the ties. We can never say which is better. We must play both games very seriously and work very hard. We know no other way."

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