Benfica and Arsenal head into their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second-leg all square after a 1-1 draw between the two sides at the Stadio Olimpico.
In a game that was being played in Rome due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spurned the best chance of the opening half by somehow placing a shot wide from just yards out. That miss would come back to bite the Gunners in the second-half as Pizzi scored from the penalty spot following a handball by Emile Smith-Rowe. Arsenal were not behind for long though, with another academy graduate, Bukayo Saka polishing off a great team move and securing a well-earned draw for Mikel Arteta’s men.
Here are three things we learned from the first-leg:
Benfica man Pizzi has been in brilliant form in the Europa League so far this season. Prior to the meeting with Arsenal, the Portuguese had hit six goals in the competition in as many games, leading the scoring charts.
He continued that brilliant form with a well-taken penalty, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner of Bernd Leno’s net, leaving the German with absolutely no chance.
Pizzi has now netted in four consecutive European matches and is surely once again going to be key for Benfica in the second leg and potentially throughout the remainder of the competition.
Whilst Pizzi was precise and clinical for Benfica, the same could not really have been said of Aubameyang for Arsenal. Following his triumphant return to the Gunners’ starting 11 last time out with a hat-trick against Leeds United, he was expected to take that form onto the European stage. It didn’t quite work out that way however.
The usually lethal Gabonese forward looked slightly lethargic throughout the evening and even when he was presented with opportunities, he somehow didn’t put them in the back of the net. First, he managed to latch onto a great cross from Hector Bellerin in the first-half but somehow put his effort off target. He then had an equally presentable chance after the break, sprinting beyond Nicolas Otamendi but played his shot just wide of the far post.
He was eventually taken off with just under 15 minutes remaining. Of course, his performance could be down to a lack of match sharpness having started just one of Arsenal’s last six games in all competitions. The sooner he gets back to full fitness, the better for Arsenal.
Finely poised ahead of second-leg
The Gunners will be by far the happier of the two teams having secured what could potentially be a vital away goal with Saka’s equaliser. However, Jorge Jesus’ Benfica will certainly feel like they’re in with a chance of progressing. The Portuguese giants frustrated their Premier League counterparts for a vast majority of the tie.
It’s also going to be extremely interesting to see how the Gunners react in the second leg, with the game set to be played in Athens considering that their ‘home’ advantage might not actually be that much of an advantage.
It could all potentially make for an extremely entertaining tie next week. Arsenal can still be backed at a price of 10/1 with William Hill to win the UEFA Europa League this season. Meanwhile, the Liga NOS outfit are available at 28/1.
Benfica: Helton (7); Vertonghen (6), Otamendi (6), Verissimo (7) (Chiquinho (N/A), 85′); Grimaldo (6), Pizzi (7) (Seferovic (6), 64′), Weigl (6), Taarabt (6) (Gabriel (N/A), 77′), Goncalves (6); Waldschmidt (5) (Rafa (7), 46′), Nunez (5) (Everton (6), 64′).
Arsenal: Leno (7); Cedric (6) (Tierney (7), 64′), Gabriel (6), Luiz (6), Bellerin (7); Xhaka (6), Ceballos (6) (Elneny (N/A), 90′); Smith-Rowe (6) (Martinelli (N/A), 77′), Odegaard (7) (Willian (N/A), 90′), Saka (7); Aubameyang (6) (Pepe (N/A), 77′).
Goals: Pizzi (55′ PEN), Saka (57′)
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir
Yellow Cards: N/A
Red Cards: N/A
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