As two of the most successful clubs in their countries go head to head, managers Jorge Jesus and Mikel Arteta prepare their teams for one of the most important games of the season.
Ashley Adamson-Edwards takes you through the action as it happened as Benfica take on Arsenal in the Europa League Round of 32 (leg one).
With Benfica’s chances of winning a league title being reduced to none with the incredible form of rivals Sporting Lisbon in the Liga NOS, and Arsenal struggling to hold onto a top 10 position in the Premier League, tonight will be a good chance for both sides to try to redeem their poor form in the league.
Although usually, a round of 32 tie in the Europa League is a good chance for both sets of fans to give their teams something to fight for, tonight’s clash will be played at a neutral ground in Italy due to the pandemic.
Furthermore, despite both clubs usually progressing through to this round with ease, tonight may not play out that way. As both teams set to field a strong line-up to build a run in the competition, the Stadio Olympico certainly won’t be seeing an easy match-up this evening.
The last and only time that Benfica were matched up against Arsenal was in the 1991/92 European Cup where the home side for this evening ended up as 4-2 winners on aggregate.
However, due to their poor form this season when compared to other Benfica teams, tonight’s clash might not turn out the same way as it did almost 30 years ago.
Jorge Jesus’ line-up for this evening will feature Helton Leite between the sticks. A player that is great at sweeping out of goal to squander attacks and remaining composed on his line.
The Portuguese giants hope to defend against the gunners with a back three that mostly already has experience against them. Jan Vertonghen (5), Nicolas Otamendi (30) have both beaten Arsenal back in England, however tonight they are also joined by Lucas Verissimo (4).
Whereas, Arsenal will certainly have to be wary of left wing-back Alejandro Grimaldo (3) who has done more than proven himself in the Portuguese League with eight senior trophies. On the opposite side is Diogo Goncalves (17) who will look to overload and penetrate Arsenal’s left-hand side (if he can get past Kieran Tierney).
Benfica’s then line up with ex-QPR man Adel Tarrabt (49), Julian Weigl (29) and captain Pizzi (21) in the midfield which will have to show their experience in a talent field match.
Their attack will then feature German attacker Gian-Luca Waldschmidt (10) and Darwin Nunez (9).
Benfica are the only Portuguese side that Arsenal have never been able to beat. Therefore, if the Gunner’s aren’t able to come away with a victory or at least an away goal this evening their chances of progressing through the tournament may be reduced significantly.
Nevertheless, following the Gunner’s win against Leeds at the weekend, Arteta’s team are on a high and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have finally found his form for this campaign with a hattrick.
If anything is going to tell us that Arteta was pleased with his team’s performance at the weekend its the fact that he’s made no changes to his starting line-up. In doing so, he’s become the first Arsenal manager to keep the same team-sheet over two games for the first time since 2018.
Arteta’s defence for this evening consist’s of Bernd Leno (1) in goal, Hector Bellerin (2) at right-back, Cedric Soares (17) on the other side, and Gabriel (6) and David Luiz (23) in the centre-half roles. Tonight, David Luiz faces an old team of his in where he played for four years.
Arsenal will line up with a midfield triangle of Granit Xhaka (34) and Dani Ceballos (8) sitting behind Martin Odegaard (11) who makes his Europa League debut for the club.
On either side of Odegaard will be English stars Emile Smith-Rowe (32) and Bukayo Saka with Aubameyang (14) taking up the solo striker position.
1′ And we’re off here at the Stadio Olympico as Arsenal get us underway.
Who do you think will come out on top by the end of the match? Will Arsenal build on their momentum from the weekend or are Benfica on their way to knocking the Gunners out of the competition?
2′ Aubameyang caught offside after running through on goal from a cutting pass. But, the Gabonese man won’t get his chance just yet.
After a lack of goals this season, it looks as though Arteta wants to keep Aubameyang in the sole striker role to maintain his confidence following his first Premier League hat-trick at the weekend.
6′ Arsenal win a corner after Vertonghen does well to block the cross from Bellerin.
The Spanish right-back thought he could drop a shoulder and get a ball into Benfica’s danger area but the Belgian international remained composed and dealt with the threat.
11′ Waldschmidt is brought down following an aggressive foul from Xhaka, luckily neither the Swiss is booked nor the German inured.
12′ Cedric’s cross is fired too high and wide as Arsenal reflect on a nice string of passes.
Since signing from Southampton in 2019 (on loan in January and permanently in the summer), Cedric has done well to act as a back-up option to either of Arsenal’s first team full-backs. It would seem unfair to not give him more of a run outcome the return of Tierney.
18′ Leite shows great anticipation to rush out of goal and punch the ball out of Smith-Rowe’s path following a nice run from the young English playmaker.
The home side for this evening have done well to slow down the attacking tempo of Arsenal so far. Nevertheless, their full-backs will have to make sure that less space is left in-behind for the Arteta’s men.
19′ Aubameyang misses a massive chance for gunners as the skipper holds his head in his hands.Embed from Getty Images
With Arsenal breaking forward, Bellerin was able to get in behind and find mountains of space down the right flank. The Spaniard then squared the ball across goal only for Aubameyang to put the chance wide.
A massive chance wasted for the gunners.Embed from Getty Images
23′ Tarrabt reminds us of how easily he used to go down in the Premier League whilst dropping after Ceballos’ challenge.
The Gunners will certainly have to be careful of the magic that the Moroccan can often produce in games such as these despite his tendency to go over with ease.
27′ Saka curls one from the edge of the area but doesn’t do enough to trouble the keeper. Good effort from the future star.
The move came after Odegaard showed a beautiful piece of vision with a perfectly weighted pass through the Benfica defence that Saka could run onto. With the Ball eventually being played around the box by the away team, Saka decided enough was enough and tied to pull-off the spectacular.
29′ Otamendi clears for Benfica whilst cutting out Smith-Rowe’s cross towards Aubameyang.
As Smith-Rowe dazzled down the left-wing for Arsenal, Taraabt was given a taste of his own medicine as the Englishman turned and shifted away from him. If it wasn’t for the sea of red-shirts standing between the two Arsenal stars, the game could have been opened up.
32′ Nunez curls an effort towards Leno but doesn’t get enough on it to worry the German.
It seemed that the Portuguese team may have created enough to trouble Arsenal as the ball was played out to Nunez, waiting on the left-wing in space. As he then cut inside, the attempted finesse found himself losing his footing as the ball ended up at the near post rather than the far top corner.
Despite the poor shot, Leno didn’t deal with it too well and found himself chasing for the ball after missing his first chance to catch it.
36′ Nunez goes crashing down in the Arsenal box as he goes shoulder-to-shoulder with Cedric.
However, it was actually a brilliant piece of defending from the Arsenal defender. Showing great awareness and rushing back to cut out a return pass.
39′ Vertonghen nearly made a horror show of clearing Bellerin’s ball into the box after losing his footing and eventually having to scramble the ball out for a corner.
40′ Odegaard with a touch of class too much to deny Arsenal their first goal of the match.Embed from Getty Images
With Ceballos considering his options on the edge of the area, his pass ended up slipping through to his Norwegian teammate. With a lovely back-heel to Luiz and then a return back to the new signing, Odegaard then went about shimmying past a red shirt and finding himself one-on-one with Leite.
As every Arsenal fan screamed the word ‘shoot’ from their sofas, the playmaker then decided to lay it off to Gabriel who was too far forward for the opportunity and let the chance slip.
It’s clear to see that Real Madrid have installed similar qualities into Odegaard than they did with Ozil. Unfortunately, it appears that Odegaard’s awareness of when to pull the trigger hasn’t quite transferred over yet.
46′ Benfica are denied a golden opportunity as Ceballos rushed across to header Grimaldo’s cross clear.
47′ Half-time is called here in Italy as both teams go into the dressing room on level terms.
Do both managers need to consider a change going into the second half or is it just a matter of time before their selections start to pay off?
First half summary
Arsenal have dominated the match so far. Having recorded over 100 more completed passes and having 61% of possession. But unfortunately, their finishing hasn’t been anywhere near up to scratch despite having produced double the amount of attacks that the opposition has.
The biggest chance of the game so far came for Aubameyang after Bellerin’s ball across the box gave the Gabonese man an awfully easy chance to put his side ahead. As the ball pea-rolled wide of the post, everyone watching from home could only have wondered how on earth the score was still level.
With a couple more chances for Saka and Odegaard, Arsenal look like next half they’ll have what it takes to grab an away goal or two.
On the other hand, Benfica have done well at times to break down the attacks for the Gunners and at times have broken forward and caused problems themselves. With only one less shot than the Gunners from half as many attacks, it may seem that Benfica could capitalise on a good enough chance when one comes their way in the next 45.
Stats So Far
|Possession (%)||Attempts||Attacks||Corners||Passing Accuracy (%)|
Man of the Match To Be?Embed from Getty Images
Despite not always performing so consistently for Arsenal, so far Hector Bellerin has been brilliant at getting balls into the box from runs down the right flank.
Although at times he’s been caught too far up the pitch and allowed the likes of Grimaldo to run forward, his awareness to get in behind of the Benfica defence has been extremely damaging.
On one occasion, he set up the chance of the half when running onto an exceptional pass from Ceballos which found himself so away from the opposition that he was able to square the ball into Aubameyang. Unfortunately, the chance was shockingly missed.
Martin Odegaard – was able to cut open the opposition on numerous occasions and did well in the first half to create for the Reds.
Nicolas Otamendi – had a strong half for the home side when cutting out dangerous passes into his box and continued to act as the nuisance that Arsenal really didn’t need.
46′ Substitution – Benfica
The home side also gets us underway for the second period of tonight’s fixture.
Are we about to see Arsenal finally capitalise on their chances or will Benfica keep their composure and stun the Gunners this evening?
48′ Leno remains calm and gets down quickly to deny Pizzi of an opening goal.
It seems that Benfica have started this second half with a spring in their step as they start to play the ball around in Arsenal’s half.
50′ Smith-Rowe denied a massive chance to put his side ahead as Leite pulls off a spectacular save.
As Saka danced around the ball on the right-wing, a quick step to the left and curling cross found Smith-Rowe free in the penalty area where his volley did nothing but deflect off the keeper. To save his embarrassment though, was the linesman who flagged for offside.
52′ Saka fires wide form the edge of the area as the ball roles wide.
It seems that once again Arsenal aren’t able to take advantage of their chances as Saka managed to not even hit the target. With all the hard-work of skipping past his man, no reward was given.
53′ Penalty – Benfica
Smith-Rowe has given a penalty away for Benfica whilst trying to block a cross coming into his box. As the ball came in, the Englishman’s first thought was to put his arms up to defend his face, but in turn blocked the ball with his elbow and left the referee no choice.
55′ Goal – Benfica 1-0Embed from Getty Images
Pizzi gives Benfica the lead with a calm finish from the sport into the bottom-right corner.
Arsenal have been punished for not capitalising on their earlier chances as the Europe League’s top scorer adds another to his tally.
As Pizzi stepped up to the chance, there was no doubt in his mind that he would show exactly why he’s the top scorer in the competition so far.
57′ Xhaka produces a brilliant tackle to deny Rafa a ball across the face of Leno’s goal.
Terrific defending from the Switzerland international.
57′ Goal – Arsenal 1-1Embed from Getty Images
Saka shows up once again for the Gunners by putting home the equalizer from Smith-Rowe’s ball into the box.
The young number seven did so well to re-position himself and put away a hard-hitting pass from Smith-Rowe to give Arsenal that crucial away goal. Thanks to a well-worked piece of build-up play and a bit of patience, Arsenal have responded in the most perfect way.Embed from Getty Images
Mikel Arteta – and breath.
62′ Leno with a good save to deny Rafa a goal from the outside of his boot.
Since coming on for The Eagles, Rafa has been excellent at causing problems for his side. A tremendously tricky player which Benfica did well to pinch in the summer.
63′ Aubameyang comes so close to redeeming his horrible attempts at goal earlier by putting his side ahead but fires wide.
64′ Substitution – Arsenal – Benfica
66′ Odegaard’s vision is shown once more with a great pass through to Aubameyang. Unfortunately, the striker couldn’t quite latch onto it.
Have Arsenal found their new Ozil in Odegaard?
69′ Aubameyang shows a great bit of pressure to Leite which forces the ball out for a throw-on for Arsenal.
Despite not having the best games for his club, Aubameyang is still putting in a shift for Arteta as he chases down the ball. What an example to the youth of Arsenal.
71′ Otamedi keeps his side in the game with a great interception to deny Aubameyang a tap in.
The Arsenal striker just can’t catch a break tonight as he’s denied the chance to score once more.
73′ Everton comes inches from putting the Gunners behind once more with a lovely curled effort.
It seemed that as Everton broke away on the wing, Arsenal just didn’t want to close him down and the Brazilian was eventually able to fire at will.
75′ Aubameyang miss yet another chance to score as Verissimo rushes back to squander the chance.
If only had Aubameyang had taken the chance on his left foot and fired home for the Reds. In the end, his lack of faith on his weaker side meant that he tried to pull the ball back in a bid to shoot on his stronger. But Verissimo was their to give him none of the time and space he wanted as the ball was swiped away and into Leite’s arms.
77′ Substitution – Arsenal – Benfica
It seems that Arteta has decided that enough is enough for his star striker tonight. He’s had chance after chance but nothing has gone his way. Hopefully, for the away side Martinelli can do what the former couldn’t.
78′ David Luiz does well to block off Rafa from running onto Sefranovic’s pass and allows Leno the time to sweep the ball into his arms.
79′ Pepe loses his footing at the last inch while showing good movement down the goal line.
With Tierny slipping the Ivorian through, it seemed that the recent substitute would at least get a ball into the area. However, his obsession with tricks cost him the chance to do so.
84′ Tierny’s ball into the box is a wasted one despite Xhaka slipping the Scotsman into so much space. Nevertheless, the waiting Martinelli is left frustrated.
85′ Substitution – Benfica
86′ Leite did so well to rush out of goal, control the ball with his chest and play the ball off the pitch.
Superb goalkeeping to deny Arsenal their attack.
88′ Xhaka gives away a free-kick to the opposition whilst pulling the shirt of Rafa.
Although Arsenal are desperate for their chance to get forward once more, they’ll need to be a little careful that their desperation doesn’t turn into a lack of awareness.
90′ Substitute – Arsenal
91′ It’s as if Arsenal are unable to break down Benfica’s impressive organisation in these dying moments of the game. Now that Odegaard has been replaced, this might remain the case for the rest of the game. No Odegaard, no attacking threat.
95′ Full-Time has been blown by the referee as both teams finish with a goal each. It seems that this tie is still all to play for in the second leg.
With the first half going to Arsenal in terms of stats, their lack of ability to win the first half in terms of goals has cost them massively. With Aubameyang among others wasting numerous chances for the Gunners, they weren’t able to really punish their opposition.
Eventually, in the 55th minute, Pizzi remained calm and but Benfica ahead from the spot after Emile Smith-Rowe gave away a penalty. Nevertheless, Arsenal responded well with a goal soon after from Saka.
Despite many more chances for Aubameyang and eventually Martinelli, Arsenal weren’t good enough in the final third to trouble Benfica in the end. It seems that this clash will have to be decided in the second leg.
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