MADRID – Arsene Wenger was left devastated by Arsenal's Europa League defeat to Atletico Madrid on Thursday but made a staunch defence of midfielder Mesut Ozil.
Ozil's performance was heavily criticised by former Arsenal defender Martin Keown, who said the German had cried “crocodile tears” after the game, and was “not fit to wear the shirt”.
Diego Costa's strike proved decisive at the Wanda Metropolitano where a 1-0 victory secured Atletico a 2-1 win on aggregate and a place in the final against Marseille.
Defeat ends Wenger's hopes of leaving Arsenal on a high as his team missed out on a shot at a major trophy and squandered their last chance to qualify for the Champions League.
“I'm very sad tonight,” Wenger said. “Unfortunately you have to go through that - the game can be very cruel, sometimes very nice, but the suffering is very strong tonight. Looking at the chances over the two games the least we could say is we are very frustrated. The tie should have been over in the first game.”
It remains to be seen how another season outside Europe's premier tournament will affect Arsenal's search both for a new coach, and new signings, this summer.
“The club now has to think about what to do for next season,” Wenger said. “I think there are some good ingredients in our team and they will bounce back. With the right additions in the summer I think they can compete next year.”
We expect better
Keown, however, was less optimistic and reserved a particularly harsh assessment for Ozil.
“He wasn't fit to wear the shirt tonight,” Keown told BT Sport. “I've seen this a lot this season and it needs to be said. He needs to be dug out. We expect better from him. These are crocodile tears I'm seeing from the player. He's not conning me.”
Keown added: “I bet he doesn't play again this season. He'll have some emotional breakdown and won't play this weekend.”
When Keown's comments were put to Wenger, he said: “I don't agree with that. You will see that he gave a lot. It was a difficult team, physically very intense. I'm convinced that Ozil should not be criticised by anyone just because he did not score. We had plenty of opportunities and we lose as a team.”
Wenger also delivered an update on the fitness of Laurent Koscielny, who had to be carried off on a stretcher in the 12th minute after the defender went down, with nobody near him, clutching his left Achilles.
Arsenal and France now face an anxious wait.
“It doesn't look very good, it's his Achilles,” Wenger said. “You can always hope for a miracle in the scan but if he has a ruptured Achilles, his chances for the World Cup are non-existent.”
Costa was the star of the show, providing the tenacity and killer instinct Arsenal so desperately lacked.
“Costa came back here for nights like this,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “To be important, to lead from the front. This side needs an aggressive striker and that's exactly what he is.”