Benfica 1-1 Arsenal: Saka gives extravagant gunners a slight lead

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Bukayo Saka’s away goal gave Arsenal the lead as they drew 1-1 with Benfica in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32 at the Stadio Olimpico.

Pizzi became the competition’s top scorer this season with seven when he put Benfica ahead from the penalty spot early in the second half after Emile Smith Rowe drove.

Arsenal were only to blame for falling behind after a poor finish, but Saka tied just over two minutes after Pizzi hit the neutral venue in Rome on Thursday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was particularly wasteful, but the Gunners have the upper hand before the second leg at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Athens next week.

Arsenal were unchanged for the first time since September 2018 and Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick in a win over Leeds United on Sunday, inexplicably missed a glorious opportunity to put them in front in the 17th minute.

Hector Bellerin appeared to have put an opening goal on a layup for his captain as he crossed from the right, but the unmarked Aubameyang somehow failed to hit the mark with his left foot.

Benfica offered little in attack, but Granit Xhaka was relieved to get away with a terrible pass just before the break, Dani Ceballos came to the rescue blocking a Diogo Goncalves cross with two unmarked men in red jerseys waiting for a touch.

Saka missed with a deflected shot after Bellerin and Ceballos opened Benfica, but it was Benfica who drew first blood from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.

Pizzi coldly conceded from 12 yards after Smith Rowe handled a cross from Goncalves, but the Premier League team responded with a draw from Saka.

Martin Odegaard removed Cedric Soares with an incisive pass and the center back was brought home by England winger Saka from close range.

Aubameyang fired wide again when he should have hit the target and Kieran Tierney came back from the bench before Benfica substitute Everton fired wide against the march.

Forward Aubameyang took too long when he had another clear opportunity to put Arsenal in front as neither team could create a winner.

What does that mean? All to play in Athens

Arsenal will surely wonder how they won’t make the trip to Greece without the advantage of having scored a goal away from home in the first of two games at neutral venues due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Benfica defended decisively, with experienced Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of their defense, but Arteta’s team 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 captain Pizzi took his opportunity to open the scoring in a great way from the point of view.

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 Recopa de Europa. Pizzi’s first goal was also the Eagles’ 100th goal in the Europa League.

Aubameyang strangely out of place

Arsenal captain Aubameyang took 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 player won’t want to see him fail again in the first half after Bellerín cheated on him. That set the tone, as Aubameyang missed the mark with two attempts before he didn’t even get a shot when he went one-on-one with Helton Leite in the second half.

Opta Key Statistics:

– Since the beginning of last season, Saka (19 years 166 days) is the youngest player in the Premier League to have scored more than 10 goals and provided more than 10 assists in all competitions.
Arsenal have managed to overcome 13 of their 16 previous ties in major UEFA competitions by drawing or winning the first leg away from home.
– However, one of their three eliminations in that sequence came at this exact stage of the Europa League last season against 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).

Whats Next?

Arsenal play at home to leading Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, while Benfica closes the week with a Premier League clash in Farense.

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