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Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in Europa League semi-final

Arsenal were handed a mouth-watering clash against tournament favourites Atletico Madrid in Friday’s draw for the semi-finals of the Europa League, meaning the clubs will meet for the first time.

French giants Marseille will play Salzburg, a club backed by soft drinks giant Red Bull, in the other semi-final.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal will play the first leg at home at the Emirates Stadium against Atletico, led by French striker Antoine Griezmann, who are looking to win the competition for the third time in a decade.

Wenger, whose side play Manchester United away in the Premier League between the two legs of the semi-final, had identified Atletico, Champions League finalists in 2014 and 2016, as the most dangerous side in the draw.

“Everybody speaks about Atletico Madrid that they look the strongest team on paper,” he said. It will be Arsenal’s first European semi-final since 2009.

The first legs will take place on April 26 with the return games on May 3.

“They are a similar kind of club to us,” Atletico director Clemente Villaverde said at the draw at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon.

“Arsenal are a great team, they’re up there every year fighting for trophies and getting deep into their European competitions,” he said.

Arsenal reached the last four after surviving a scare against CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarter-final second leg in the Russian capital.

Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey both scored late in the game for Arsenal to calm nerves after CSKA had raced into a 2-0 lead on the night. A 2-2 draw saw the London side through 6-3 on aggregate.

Atletico lost 1-0 to Sporting in Lisbon on Thursday but advanced 2-1 on aggregate.

Diego Costa, who returned to the club from Chelsea earlier this season, could be a doubt for the first leg after Atletico confirmed he had suffered a hamstring injury in the game in Portugal. He was substituted early in the second half.

British bookmakers William Hill make Atletico hot favourites to win the competition, but explained why Arsenal fans still have reason for optimism.

“It could be argued that Arsenal need this more than Atletico as a route into the Champions League next season,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.

“Their Europa League form has been in stark contrast to their Premier League form during the second half of this season and they have every chance of progressing,” Crilly said.

Sitting sixth in the Premier League, only winning the final in Lyon on May 16 will take the Gunners into the Champions League next season.

– Marseille target Lyon final –
Marseille would love to make it to a final being played on French soil after making it through to a first European semi since 2004.

They produced a stirring comeback to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit and beat German side RB Leipzig 5-3 on aggregate in their quarter-final.

Marseille will be at home in the first leg against 1994 finalists Salzburg, who produced the shock result of Thursday night by defeating Italian side Lazio 4-1 at home to win 6-5 on aggregate.

Salzburg have already beaten Marseille once in the competition this season, a 1-0 victory in Austria. The teams also drew 0-0 at the Velodrome in the group stage.

“But this time it’s the semi-final so it’ll be different,” Marseille director Andoni Zubizarreta told beIN Sports.

The former Spain goalkeeper refused to accept it was an easy draw however.

“The four clubs have worked a lot to reach the semi-finals and yesterday Salzburg were very strong against Lazio,” Zubizarreta insisted in reference to the four goals Salzburg hit past the Romans on Thursday.

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