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Europa League: Arsenal, Marseille host semifinal 1st legs

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Arsenal’s Champions League dreams could be in for a rude awakening against tournament-tested Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League vs. La Liga match-up is one of two Europa League semifinal first legs set to be served up Sunday, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg meeting in the other.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

There’s something romantic about Arsene Wenger closing out his time at Arsenal against French opposition in Lyon, but Atleti and Salzburg won’t step aside for poetics.

Both matches kickoff ay 3:05 p.m. ET

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid

It’s a bit stunning that this tie has no history considering both club’s statures in their leagues and Europe, but that’s what we’ll se when Arsenal welcomes Atleti for the first leg.

Arsenal boasts two of the top 10 performers in the UEL this season — it would be three had the Gunners not sold Theo Walcott — and are paced by Aaron Ramsey, who has four goals and an assist. Mesut Ozil, who’s ready to return to the pitch, has the reverse with a goal and four helpers.

The Gunners have outscored UEL opposition 29-10 this season.

It’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann has been Atleti’s best attacker since the Madrid side dropped out of the UCL to run rampant through the UEL knockout rounds. Atleti beat Copenhagen 5-1, Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1, and Sporting Lisbon 2-1 for an aggregate score line of 15-3.

Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg

Don’t expect this to be a simple case of Ligue 1 bossing inferior opposition: This pair met in the group stage, with the Austrian side winning at home and drawing 0-0 in France.

Salzburg has shown its mettle in various ways during the UEL. After allowing just one goal in an unbeaten group stage, they’ve won 4-3 over Real Sociedad, 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund, and 6-5 versus Lazio. That’s no easy road, and Marseille represents another big challenge.

Marseille is bidding to make its first European final since 2004, and has been led by Dimitri Payet‘s three goals and four assists, and Lucas Ocampos’ four goals and one assist. Marseille has knocked off RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao, and Braga after the group stage.

Names you’ll need to know from Salzburg: defenders Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda have been spectacular, and Munas Dabbur and Valon Berisha have each scored five times in the tournament.

Arsenal 4-1 West Ham: Big win for Wenger

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  • Monreal scores fifth of season
  • Arnautovic answers
  • Lacazette thunders home beauty

Aaron Ramsey‘s hopeful cross turned into a match-winning goal as Arsenal beat West Ham United 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Substitute striker Alexandre Lacazette scored a beautiful insurance goal en route to a brace for Arsenal, who moves four points clear of Burnley in the race for sixth. West Ham is six points clear of the drop zone with four matches to play.

Nacho Monreal gave Arsenal a lead and Marko Arnautovic equalized to set the stage for the winner, a ball unclaimed by neither Declan Rice nor Joe Hart.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had almost all of the ball, but a slip in defense forced Gunners goalkeeper David Ospina to make a nice parry on Marko Arnautovic’s shot from the right of the box.

Nacho Monreal caused a West Ham turnover deep in West Ham territory, and found Danny Welbeck for a hard shot that bounded wide of the far post.

Granit Xhaka was saved in his 35th minute free kick bid and Welbeck couldn’t get on top of a Hector Bellerin cross to head home less than a minute later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Monreal put Arsenal ahead in the 51st minute with a low finish past Joe Hart off a corner kick, but the lead didn’t last much more than 10 minutes.

Cheikhou Kouyate‘s shot was blocked to Manuel Lanzini, who quickly fed Arnautovic for a finish.

Video: Brilliant Ramsey flick has Arsenal flying

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The Gunners had a little trouble early with their Russian opposition, but the Premier League side is cruising now heading into halftime.

Aaron Ramsey‘s first-half brace, coupled with a double from Alexandre Lacazette, has Arsenal leading 4-1 at the break, but it was the Welshman’s second goal that brought the crowd to its feet at the Emirates Stadium.

A wonderful floated ball in from Mesut Ozil found the path of Ramsey, who rose confidently and back-heeled his shot over oncoming goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Wenger on quiet(er) stadium in Arsenal win

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Arsene Wenger‘s far too wise to take the bait attached to a “Why was your home stadium so quiet?” post match question.

Arsenal beat Stoke City 3-0 on Sunday, breaking through after a tepid hour at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Arsenal beats Stoke ]

Asked why supporters weren’t buoying his men, Wenger issued a matter-of-fact reply:

“It’s the price we have to pay for not challenging for the championship. To play football is a fantastic chance in life. To play for Arsenal is an even bigger chance.”

Aaron Ramsey was considered by many as the Man of the Match, and he said his Gunners weren’t bothered by the atmosphere and empty seats.

“The crowd was behind us,” he said. “They were frustrated in the first half but they stuck with us, We don’t let it affect us.”

The real test of where the Arsenal faithful stand will come Thursday, when CSKA Moscow visits for the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals. It’s Arsenal’s only route back to the Champions League.

Two-goal hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wasn’t worried about the club after a starring role for the Gunners.

The Arsenal striker has had a rough week, dealing with the death of his beloved grandmother by honoring her with a fine performance and a new hairdo.

“It is my grandmother’s name. She passed away last week so this is my dedication to her.”

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersunds and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. “[Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersunds, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.