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Arsenal came back to secure a 1-1 draw with Benfica in the first leg of their final 32 Europa League tie in Rome on Thursday night.
Mikel Arteta’s team should have taken the lead from the start, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang somehow managed to shoot from six meters with the goal wide open.
Benfica had a glorious opportunity to take the lead shortly after the break, when it was determined that Emile Smith Rowe had handled the ball in the box. Pizzi, this season’s top scorer in the Europa League, stepped up and made no mistake from the spot.
The lead lasted just two minutes, with Bukayo Saka playing at home to complete a beautiful and fluid play from Arsenal.
Both sides pressed for a winner in an attempt to take a slight lead in the second leg in Athens next Thursday, although the score remained 1-1 with the tie finely balanced at the midpoint.
That’s the highlight of the match, now for the Arsenal players’ ratings.
Bernd Leno (GK) – 6/10 – He didn’t have much to do at night, but he looked comfortable with the ball at his feet and showed good handling.
Héctor Bellerin (RB) – 7/10 – His usual energy for the Arsenal right wing. He supported Saka well and provided a decoy as the young winger watched to enter. Solid defensive display on what was a good night of work.
David Luiz (CB) – 6/10 – It’s hard to think of a glaring mistake that immediately rates you a 10/10 on the David Luiz scale. Yet when his performance qualifies as a real Premier League footballer, he was consistent, if not spectacular.
Gabriel (CB) – 10/7 – Dominant in the air and showed good positional sense. He entered midfield where possible and possibly produced the game pass when he took out Aubameyang with a ball overhead, but the leader could not find the end.
Cedric Soares (LB) – 6/10 – It produced a well-weighted ball to Saka who applied the finish. The former Southampton man looked solid on the night before being replaced by Kieran Tierney in the second half.
Granit Xhaka (CM) – 7/10 – He sat at the base of Arsenal’s midfield and did the dirty work that allowed those in front of him to strut. An unusually disciplined display of the Swiss international.
Dani Ceballos (CM) – 6/10 – He had trouble maintaining control of the ball and was guilty of granting possession cheaply on several occasions. At least he looked menacing when running with the ball, but not his best night job.
Martin Odegaard (AM) – 10/7 – He produced an excellent ball to open play and give Cedric a chance to put it on a plate for Saka. He began to pull the strings as the game progressed and is beginning to settle well on this side of Arsenal.
Bukayo Saka (RW) – 8/10 – He placed home the tie at a crucial point in the game. He always looked alive cutting from the left side and was the spark of something good in the evening for the Gunners.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) – 4/10 – He produced one of the mistakes of his career early on, missing what was practically an open goal. He did his best to lead the line, but clearly adapted much better to the wide areas. I lost another great opportunity in the second half when he scored the goal.
Emile Smith Rowe (LW) – 7/10 – He constantly sought to lead the Benfica defense and pass his man. It was a bit unfortunate to award the penalty, but it is a steep learning curve for the youngster and overall his performance was impressive.
Kieran Tierney (LB) – 6/10
Gabriel Martinelli (ST) – 6/10
Nicolás Pepe (LW) – 5/10
Willian (RW) – N / A
Mohamed Elneny (CM) – N / A