Arsenal met Benfica at a neutral ground in the 1st leg of the Europa League – Rome at the Stadio Olimpico, with Arsenal as the away side.
The away goal rule therefore is in play and could be a decisive area in the tie.
Arsenal are unchanged from their 4-2 victory over Leeds, but Tierney makes the bench.
Benfica have young sensation Darwin Nunez, veterans Otamendi & Vertonghen at the back as well as Pizzi – another experienced presence, with Everton on the bench.
With mixed form for both sides, and a lot of top players on show, the game should be a good spectacle.
The game was a very tactical affair, with Benfica playing a 5 back and more than happy to absorb pressure.
Arsenal players (particularly Saka) were caught offside numerous times, due to the passing being too slow. Some great runs from the Englishman going to waste due to too many unnecessary touches.
There was an opportunity for Arsenal to get in behind, as Benfica pressed which left gaps in behind, but the play wasn’t quick enough.
There was one clear cut chance, as Bellerin got in behind and squared it to Aubameyang.
Just when you’re expecting the net to bulge like usual, the Gabonese puts it wide. Huge let off for the Portuguese Giants. Will Arsenal rue to miss that in a game of few chances?
In stoppage time of the first half, Xhaka put his teammates in danger with a hospital pass. Thankfully Ceballos was present to intercept.
0-0 at the break, a game with few chances and a boring watch generally.
A tactical battle, where Benfica were happy to sit deep. The game is crying out for some attacking intent from the gunners.
The final ball has been lacking and often over complicated, but Arsenal have been in control of the game but have failed to get Ødegaard involved enough.
I expect a completely improved 2nd half & Pepe to be involved.
Winger Rafa was introduced at the break for German international Waldschmidt.
The game continued in a similar sort of fashion, with too many safe passes and not enough progression.
Saka dragged a good opportunity wide where you’d expect him to hit the target, but there was little of note to talk about.
After opposing no threat, the ball came off the arm of Smith Rowe and a penalty was awarded. Despite the ref only awarding due to the Benfica players shouts, there was no further VAR check.
Joint top scorer Pizzi dispatched the penalty calmly, getting a lead against the run of play.
Arsenal needed an instant response and they got exactly that. Cedric got in behind and squared it to Saka to equalise.
Via @Arsenal on Twitter
Tierney had returned from his injury and came on, which was great to see as Arsenal looked to get the lead on the night.
Aubameyang managed to get ahead of his man but failed to hit the target, which adds to a collection of good chances missed.
Everton came on for Nunez, Seferovic on for Pizzi for the home team on the night.
Benfica were getting a few countering opportunities, one where Everton narrowly missed the top corner. Would have been a brilliant goal.
To sum up a dismal evening, Aubameyang doesn’t shoot and tried to cut it on to his stronger foot.
Another huge chance goes begging, where fans are just wanting the skipper to strike!
With 15 minutes left to go, Aubameyang came off for Martinelli and Pepe came on for Smith Rowe.
Martinelli as a 9 is good to see, but the change in the front 3 was needed far earlier. A misjudgement from Arteta.
The game ended 1-1. A very disappointing evening, where the fatigue really showed late on.
With Europa League the most likely route into European football, the 2nd leg where Arsenal are the home side is that bit more important.
The night could’ve been so different, but for huge chances missed.
1 away goal isn’t overly ideal, but it’s unlikely Arsenal are quite so flat in the return leg.
As for Benfica, they occupied the central areas efficiently – making it very hard to break through.
A resilient display from the Portugese outfit, but it will be very tough for them to go through to the last 16.
They posed little attacking threat against a poor Arsenal performance which is bound to improve, but primarily focused on cancelling Arsenal out.
It is also worth noting they have control over the away goal rule, as they are the “away” side, which could prove decisive.
Man of the match:
There were very few contenders for Arsenal.
Ceballos was very good at doing the dirty work but was often too safe. Xhaka had a poor game, giving the ball away unnecessarily and over hitting passes – uncanny of the Swiss – highlighting the importance of Partey’s absence.
His ball progression and forward thinking passes give Arsenal a major edge over their opponent, which no other midfielder can offer in this role.
Ødegaard was one of the brighter players on show, but no one from the Gunners deserved the MOTM.
One of the Benfica defenders perhaps warrants it, but there’s no clear MOTM in a very frustrating encounter.
Leno – 6
Bellerin – 6.5
Gabriel – 6
Luiz – 6
Cedric – 7
Xhaka – 5
Ceballos – 7.5
Smith Rowe – 6
Ødegaard – 7
Saka – 7
Aubameyang – 4
Subs – N/A
What next for Arsenal?
Arsenal match up against Manchester City. With City winning 17 in a row in all competitions, this will be an extremely tough fixture – to where any points are a bonus.
I expect to see some rotation, as the Europa should be our main priority.
You can watch the game on Sky Sports at 4:30pm on Sunday.
Arsenal have beaten Man City in their impressive cup run last year, can they repeat? Or will City win like earlier on in the season?
Let’s find out soon.
featured image credit arseblog.news