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Benfica and Arsenal face the second leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 32 after a 1-1 draw between the two teams at the Stadio Olimpico.
In a game being played in Rome due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down the best opportunity of the first half by landing a deflected shot from just a few yards. That failure came back to bite the Gunners in the second half when Pizzi scored from the penalty spot off a hand from Emile Smith-Rowe. However, Arsenal were not left behind for long, with another academy graduate, Bukayo Saka, polishing a great team move and securing a well-deserved draw for Mikel Arteta’s men.
Here are three things we learned from the first leg:
Benfica player Pizzi has been in brilliant form in the Europa League so far this season. Before the meeting with Arsenal, the Portuguese had scored six goals in the competition in as many games, leading the scorers’ table.
He continued that brilliant form with a well-executed penalty, placing the ball in the lower right corner of Bernd Leno’s net, leaving the German with no chance.
Pizzi has already scored in four consecutive European games and will surely once again be key for Benfica in the second leg and potentially for the rest of the competition.
While Pizzi was precise and clinical for Benfica, the same could not have been said of Aubameyang for Arsenal. Following his triumphant return to the Gunners’ starting eleven last time with a hat-trick against Leeds United, he was expected to take that form on the European stage. However, it didn’t quite work out that way.
The usually lethal Gabonese forward seemed a bit lethargic throughout the night and even when opportunities were presented to him, he somehow didn’t put them in the back of the net. First, he managed to hold on to a great cross from Hector Bellerin in the first half, but somehow deflected his effort. He then had an equally presentable opportunity after the break, rushing past Nicolas Otamendi, but played his shot just off the far post.
He was finally removed with just under 15 minutes remaining. Of course, his performance could be due to the lack of sharpness of the matches, as he only started one of Arsenal’s last six games in all competitions. The sooner he’s back in top form, the better for Arsenal.
Finely prepared ahead of the second leg
The Gunners will be by far the happier of the two teams having secured what could be a vital away goal with Saka’s draw. However, Jorge Jesus’ Benfica will certainly feel that they have a chance to progress. The Portuguese giants frustrated their Premier League counterparts for the vast majority of the tie.
It will also be very interesting to see how the Gunners react in the second leg, with the match to be played in Athens, considering that their ‘home’ advantage might not really be a huge advantage.
It could all turn into a very 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 League NOS team is available on 1/28.
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 ′), Núñez (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: Cäin Cakir
Yellow cards: ARRIVE
Red cards: ARRIVE