Bukayo Saka’s away goal gave Arsenal the upper hand as they drew 1-1 with Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie at Stadio Olimpico.
Pizzi became the leading goalscorer in the competition this season with seven when he put Benfica in front from the penalty spot early in the second half after Emile Smith Rowe handled.
Arsenal only had themselves to blame for being behind after some poor finishing, but Saka levelled just over two minutes after Pizzi struck at the neutral venue in Rome on Thursday.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was particularly wasteful, but the Gunners have the edge ahead of the second leg at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens next week.
It’s all to play for in Athens.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 18, 2021
Arsenal were unchanged for the first time since September 2018 and Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick in the win over Leeds United on Sunday, inexplicably missed a glorious chance to put them in front 17 minutes in.
Hector Bellerin looked to have a put an opening goal on a plate for his captain when he crossed from the right, but the unmarked Aubameyang somehow failed to hit the target with his left foot.
Benfica offered little going forward but Granit Xhaka was relieved to get away with a terrible pass just before the break, Dani Ceballos coming to the rescue by blocking a Diogo Goncalves cross with two unmarked men in red shirts waiting for a tap-in.
Saka scuffed a poor shot wide after Benfica were opened up by Bellerin and Ceballos, but it was Benfica who drew first blood from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.
Pizzi coolly slotted home from 12 yards out after Smith Rowe handled Goncalves’ cross, but the Premier League side hit straight back with an equaliser from Saka.
Martin Odegaard picked out a surging Cedric Soares with an incisive pass and the full-back’s cross was tucked home by England winger Saka from close range.
Aubameyang fired wide again when he should have hit the target and the fit-again Kieran Tierney returned off the bench before Benfica substitute Everton fired off target against the run of play.
Striker Aubameyang took too long when he had another clear opportunity to put Arsenal in front as neither side could fashion a winner.
What does it mean? All to play for in Athens
Arsenal will surely wonder how they will not make the journey to Greece without just the advantage of having scored an away goal in the first of two matches at neutral venues due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Benfica defended resolutely, with the experienced Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of their backline, but Arteta’s side could have put the tie to bed if they had shown more composure in front of goal.
Prolific Pizzi is Benfica’s man on the spot
Benfica skipper Pizzi grasped his chance to open the scoring in ice-cool fashion from the spot.
He became the first Portuguese player to score at least seven goals for Benfica in a single continental campaign since the great Eusebio in the 1970-71 the European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign. Pizzi’s opener was also the Eagles’ 100th Europa League goal.
Aubameyang strangely out of sorts
Arsenal skipper Aubameyang put Leeds to the sword with a lethal treble on Sunday, but it was a very different story in the Eternal City.
The former Borussia Dortmund man will not want to see his miss in the first half again after Bellerín set him up. That set the tone as Aubameyang failed to hit the target with two attempts before he did not even get a shot away when he went one-on-one with Helton Leite in the second half.
Key Opta Stats:
– Since the start of last season, Saka (19y 166d) is the youngest Premier League player to have scored 10+ goals and made 10+ assists across all competitions.
– Arsenal have managed to progress from 13 of their previous 16 knockout ties in major UEFA competition when either drawing or winning the first leg away from home.
– However, one of their three eliminations in that sequence did come at this exact stage of the Europa League last season vs Olympiacos.
– Since the start of the 2019-20 Europa League campaign, only Bruno Fernandes (10) has scored more goals in the competition than Benfica’s Pizzi (9).
Arsenal are at home to leaders Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, while Benfica end the week with a Primeira Liga clash at Farense.
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