Arsenal, Atletico sneak into Europa League semifinals on another wild night of comebacks

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Danny Welbeck celebrates his goal that put Arsenal in control in its Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow. (Reuters)
Danny Welbeck celebrates his goal that put Arsenal in control in its Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow. (Reuters)

It has been a week of upheaval in European soccer. Of upsets. Of turnarounds. Of comebacks. Of drama. And after the Champions League set the tone on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Europa League fell in line on Thursday.

And Arsenal, one of two big names remaining in the second-tier continental competition, nearly took the baton from Barcelona 48 hours earlier. Having taken a 4-1 lead into its second leg – just as Barca had – it found itself down 2-0 away from home early in the second half – just like Barca did.

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In the end, though, the Gunners progressed to the Europa League semifinals. And, remarkably, they were the most comfortable of the four teams that did.

Two days after Barcelona blew a three-goal lead in Rome, and one day after Real Madrid very nearly replicated Barca’s collapse, two wild comebacks were the highlight of the Europa League quarterfinals.

RB Leipzig, up 2-0 on aggregate after Bruma’s second-minute opener, conceded five in France and sent Marseille through to the semifinals, 5-3 on aggregate. Dimiti Payet’s glorious solo effort held up as the winner.

Lazio, meanwhile, a heavy favorite against Red Bull Salzburg, led 5-2 on aggregate after Ciro Immobile’s 55th-minute strike. But it proceeded to concede four goals in 20 minutes to throw away its best shot at automatic Champions League qualification. Salzburg’s three goals in 247 seconds between the 72nd and 76th minutes set a Europa League record, and turned the tie on its head. The Austrian champions won a wild series 6-5 on aggregate.

An Atletico Madrid stumble, then, would have opened the competition up for Arsenal. But Diego Simeone’s side held off Sporting CP, 2-1 on aggregate. It had to sweat after Fredy Montero put the Portuguese club ahead on the night. One more Sporting goal would have sent the second leg to extra time. But Jan Oblak and Atletico clung to their slender lead.

All the while, Arsenal was the only team in control. Danny Welbeck restored the Gunners’ two-goal advantage with around 15 minutes remaining.

Aaron Ramsey added a second on the night in stoppage time to send Arsenal into the semis, 6-3 on aggregate.

It’ll be joined by Salzburg, Marseille and Atletico, with the Gunners and Spaniards suddenly looking like clear favorites. They’ll be looking to avoid each other in the semifinal draw, which takes place Friday morning (6 a.m. ET).

But it’s Arsenal who will be desperate. It is Europa League bound again next season if it doesn’t win this year’s edition. Atletico will be back in the Champions League regardless.

That’s why Thursday was so important for the Gunners. It not only saw them progress. It opened up the possibility of another inferior opponent in the semis. It was still just one step toward the grand prize. But it was a massive one.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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