Nearly 60 goals scored in the Europa League knockout games tonight, this game only produced 2 but Arsenal could and should have walked away from this match more like Spurs and Man Utd did from their games.
From the outset the Benfica backline held a high line, if the runs from Aubameyang were held slightly the flag would have stayed down. Arguably a couple of the decisions were borderline, the near side assistant showed he was flag happy.
All the threatening attacks stemmed from the right hand side Odegaard, Bellerin, Saka & Ceballos passed & moved from deep to the byline, a goal seemed inevitable. The goal nearly arrived after 18mins Bellerin crossed in low from the right, all Aubameyang had to do at the back post was pass it in but placed his shot wide.
From that point the game flowed through a similar pattern, Benfica offered no real threat going forward, Arsenal nipped any attack from the “home” side early doors while they probed going forward but usually caught offside. Arsenal just needed to be patient with their runs through the Benfica defence, you felt the Gunners would be their own worst enemy. On the stroke of halftime the self destruct button was hit, a ridiculous pass across the 18yard box by Xhaka was intercepted by Grimaldo who neither shot or crossed the ball, earning his side a corner. That was the final part of the 1st half, a better player than Grimaldo would have made Arsenal pay, they deserved that moment of good fortune. Benfica’s gameplan was to contain and frustrate, they made the game hard work to watch.
Benfica made a change at half time but starting the half with the ball gave them a chance to press and offer some energy to proceedings. It was the most dangerous they had looked on their own terms. After a clever short corner on 52mins the cross into the box was blocked by Smith Rowes chest striking his arm in the process, desperate appeals followed and after considering the ref gave the penalty. It was harsh but even after VAR reviewed it the decision was deemed correct. Pizzi stroked the penalty away to Leno’s left, he was close though. Arteta looked shocked, it was understandable it felt now like one of those nights. Not long after the goal Goncalves burst down the right flank, Xhaki made amends for his stray 1st half pass with a inch perfect tackle. Luckily for Arsenal the game did not get away from them, following the tackle they went forward and after the initial foray into the box broke down the impressive Odergaard pierced Benfica, Cedric’s low cross from the left was tapped in by Saka. Aubameyang eyeballing the ref during the VAR check was comical and threatening at the same time.
One all was not fair on Arsenal they was the better team but they was not behind anymore which was just. From this point it went back to the 1st half way of play, interrupted by continual substitutions by either teams. Everton was the most impressive sub, causing Bellerin issues when he drove forward. If a 2nd was going to be scored it was more likely Arsenals for the taking but Everton was Benficas outlet. Before being subbed Arsenal captain Aubameyang had 2 more half chances, it just wasn’t his night. Once we entered the final 10mims both sides had settled for the draw, the ref could have blown up at that point!
Watching Arsenal games with my son is painful, he is a massive Gooner but the 2nd leg should end up with them progressing, player mindset and tactical tweaks should ensure this occurs. Odergaard was the standout player, if he’s available to sign permanently the deal should be struck, he is world class playmaker, vital if they are to win this comp and ultimately play in the Champs League next season?
featured image credit arsenal.com