Europa League favourites Arsenal and Atletico Madrid avoided each other in the draw of the competition’s quarter-finals on Friday with the English side paired with CSKA Moscow and the Spaniards pitted against Sporting. Bundesliga side RB Leipzig were drawn against Olympique Marseille and Lazio, Serie A’s only survivors, will take on Salzburg, the surprise package among the last eight.
The Austrian champions are unbeaten in 12 matches in the competition this season and knocked out Borussia Dortmund in the previous round.
Unlike the Champions League, which is dominated by a handful of elite clubs, the less prestigious Europa League tends to be more unpredictable and Friday’s draw featured teams from eight different countries. Arsenal are now 12 points adrift of the Champions League places in the Premier League and their only realistic hope of returning to Europe’s top club competition next season is as winners of the Europa League. The London side, who knocked out AC Milan in the last round, are likely to be relieved to be facing the Russian side rather than Atletico, who won the competition in 2009 and 2012.
CSKA have lost their last five meetings with English clubs, including both games against Manchester United in the Champions League group stage this season.
Sporting, Portugal’s only survivors in European competition this season, have a similarly poor recent record against La Liga teams, having also lost their last five outings against Spanish sides. The tie between Leipzig, sixth in the Bundesliga, and Marseille, third in Ligue 1, is arguably the most evenly-balanced.
“Leipzig are a team who play well, an attacking team with very interesting ideas on the game,” said Marseille director Andoni Zubizarreta.
“We’ll play a similar game and try to put them in trouble. We’re happy to be here as the last French side in Europe this season.” (Reporting by Brian Homewood Editing by Christian Radnedge)