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Report: Benfica 1-1 Arsenal (inc. goals)

Result: Benfica 1-1 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 18 February 2021
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Ceballos, Smith Rowe, Saka, Odegaard, Aubameyang

Subs: Ryan, Hein, Tierney, Lacazette, Willian, Holding, Pepe, Chambers, Mari, Elneny, Nketiah, Martinelli

Arsenal came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Benfica in the first leg of our last 32 clash in Rome.

The Gunners dominated large swathes of the game and had clear chances to break the deadlock before falling behind to a Pizzi penalty on 55 minutes. While Bukayo Saka levelled from close range within a couple of minutes it wasn’t the springboard for a win.

Instead of going for the jugular, Mikel Arteta’s side decided to keep their powder dry for the return leg in Athens. A risky tactic, let’s hope it pays off.


Mikel Arteta obviously liked what he saw in the win against Leeds. For the first time since he took over as boss, the Spaniard opted for the same starting XI meaning Martin Odegaard, lavished with praise in the pre-game press conference, was afforded a second consecutive start alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka. In the absence of Thomas Partey, Dani Ceballos continued alongside Granit Xhaka. With 12 subs allowed on the bench, there was room for Kieran Tierney, on the mend after lower leg and knee problems, Eddie Nketiah and young keeper Karl Hein as well as the usual suspects.

First Half

Arsenal started the game confidently and seemed eager to work the ball around the pitch in an attempt to stretch the ‘home’ side and get them running. The Portuguese weren’t having any of it.

They showed little ambitious to chase the ball in Arsenal’s half and instead conserved their energy, in a tight formation that kept things cramped in the centre of the park. Slow the tempo seemed to be their tactic and it worked.

Our response was to try and spring the attackers with early lobbed passes from deep. Xhaka and Luiz tried to free Aubameyang and Smith Rowe with mixed results. It wasn’t until Ceballos, who had a very tidy first half, picked up the ball on 19 minutes that we created a chance of real merit.

The Spaniard spotting a darting run by Bellerin threaded a beautiful pass inside the defence that left the right-back with all the time in the world to roll a pass to Aubameyang. It looked harder to miss than score. But miss he did. The striker couldn’t quite believe he’d stroked wide with the goal gaping.

Benfica continued to frustrate us and through a good few niggly challenges into the mix. The number of times Vertonghen went through the back of Saka unpunished was as ridiculous as the number of times Aubameyang was flagged offside. Arteta was not amused by either situation.

Saka tried his luck with his left peg but couldn’t get enough whip. Smith Rowe nearly took advantage of a Vertonghen slip at the near post but had an effort blocked for a corner and Odegaard refused to shoot having shown wickedly quick feet to free space for himself in a crowded box. It was a Hleb-esque moment from the Norwegian and he was lucky the offside flag spared his blushes.

A relatively controlled half had a hair-raising finale when Xhaka tried an ambitious diagonal ball out of defence that was stolen by Benfica and left us backtracking and outnumbered. Ceballos did well to mop up the danger before the defence turned their collective glare on the Swiss.

Second half

Two chances inside the opening five minutes suggested the boss had called for more urgency. Saka was pivotal in both attacks. First, he picked out Smith Rowe with a teasing cross (the midfielder was flagged offside) and then he snatched at a shot when he really should have found the net.

We were made to pay inside three minutes. Smith Rowe trying to defend a short corner saw a cross hit his arm and the Turkish referee pointed to the spot. It was harsh on the youngster but VAR was never going to overrule it. Pizzi stepped up and after a hop, skip and a jump, rolled the ball to Leno’s left. (1-0)

Thankfully, we struck back quickly. A long ball released Saka on the right and even though our initial attack broke down on the edge of the area, Odegaard managed to salvage the situation. Pouncing on a loose ball he split Benfica’s disorganised defence to find Cedric on the overlap and the Portuguese picked out Saka for a tap in. There was a nervous wait while VAR took a look but the goal stood. (1-1)

As the game opened up, the chances started to flow. Leno made a flying save and Aubameyang went just wide on the diagonal. After Everton flashed over Leno’s bar, Aubameyang had a third clear opportunity to get on the scoresheet but having running through on goal he tried to turn back and in doing so lost the ball.

It was his last action of the night. On came Pepe and Martinelli for him and Smith Rowe. Tierney had already joined the fray 10 minutes earlier. For some reason, Xhaka, Gabriel and Luiz took the introduction of fresh legs to play triangles on the edge of our own box for about 10 minutes. We didn’t even look particularly comfortable doing it.

While you can understand holding out for a draw – not to be sniffed at on the road in the knockout stages of a European competition – it definitely felt like there was more on the table tonight. Yes we have an away goal, but at the same time, we’re not really at home in the second leg and we’ve screwed things up from better positions in the past. Just look at last year.

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Johnny 4 Hats

Wow. I wasn’t quite expecting the Portuguese Sam Allardyce to be managing Benfica. They are a side with almost no quality whatsoever. Even so, you’ve got to break them down. You have to say, and of course I love the man, but a really, really bad night for Auba. If that was Laca or Nketiah we’d be screaming for their imminent transfer. ESR and Saka look super leggy too. God, they’ve both played a lot of football for young lads. They’ll both have to sit out Man City surely. Saka luckily doesn’t have to fly home as he’s been kicked… Read more »

Runcorn Gooner

Most things involving Xhaka and Luiz were way to slow. Even allowing for Auba’s off night Benfica were poor and we should be out of sight.

Just hope it doesn’t come back next week to bite us in the bum


I really agree with the critics of Auba. It’s a joke that he not even try to hold a ball when he could be one against one with the opponent’s last defender.
Plus his combination with others are still very weak, not to mention the difference between him and Martinelli as far as pressing concern…

Johnny 4 Hats

Again I’m going to caveat this with saying I love him and think he’s a world class talent, but if someone made a compilation of sitters that Aubameyang has missed, you’d think he was Frannie Jeffers.

He scores a lot. But he misses a lot too.


Agreed! We can definitely thank him a lot, but as I see it – our aim at the moment is (should be?) stepping forward. But I can’t see that happening without ruthlessness, agility, killer instinct etc.

Hank Scorpio

Today’s performance from Auba reminded me of the time TGSTEL missed at least 5-6 sitters in a league game a few years back before scoring hat trick the next game against Porto…in the Champions League.

Spanish Gooner

Agreed – I think Pepé should get a start over Saka against City. Xhaka looked knackered too, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Elneny got a chance to use his pressing skills like at United and Liverpool


Left ourselves everything to do in the second leg. Just not good enough today.

SB Still

I think we had enough chances to have won the game. We weren’t clinical enough.


We had enough chances to win (specifically Aubameyang), but at the same time we were hardly hammering at the door. They offered absolutely nothing going forward; the only chances they had were from our own mistakes (Xhaka pass to their attackers at the end of the first half, then the penalty from a corner that Cedric failed to clear).

Spanish Gooner

Worryingly, it’s a second leg that is also away from home, in which they will have an extra 30 minutes to score if it goes to extra time.

Runcorn Gooner

Should have been out of sight. Benfica were very poor and we didn’t really push them enough.

To score a minute after going behind shows what could have happened if we didn’t spend half the game passing the ball round at the back.

Auba must have that tattoo weighing on his mind. He would have buried at least 2 of those chances in previous seasons.


The amount of times there was a midfielder in bags of space but instead the ball got passed back to a CB. The game was there for the taking. Biggest game of the season so far but we certainly weren’t playing like it


Every time the ball goes to Xhaka, the move is dead. Either sits on the ball until the opposition team gets back in defensive formation, or passes it back to a CB or Leno.


Same could have been said for Luis and Ceballos. Geez that was sleep inducing!


Rubbish. He made as many good forward passes as any other player. Did you really watch the game to scapegoat Xhaka who apart from terrible pass was excellent


He has been good recently, but he had a ‘mare tonight. He was awful. Slowed everything down. They pressed him, which nulified his usage and he was sloppy in possession. He also looked laboured and tired.

Bleeding gums murphy

Definitely need an upgrade on Xhaka in the summer.


Rubbish. He made more successful forward passes than any other player and also made some crucial tackles. But his name is Xhaka so he’s has to be scapegoated unfairly


You understand why he makes more passes right? Because so much possession goes through him. Especially when a team sits deep. Passing back and forwards with the central defenders isn’t exactly improving possession and there was WAY too much of that tonight. Again he has been good recently, but he wasn’t tonight. Possibly because he’s being played too much.

Seems an issue with Arteta. He just rolls out the same team until a change is forced. Is holding injured? Then WHY is David Luiz starting over him? Does Arteta enjoy living on the edge?

Bossman Bill

It’s not scapegoating mate, it’s using my eyes to see what’s going on. And I see all the play going through him, and it being slow as treacle.

You can bum him all you like but the best bits of the game came when he wasn’t any near the ball.

We need to sell him.

Baichung Bhutia

Agree that Xhaka seems to hold on to the ball a little bit longer, but he has also played almost without break for quite some time. I just wish we had Partey available, would have been ideal. We buy a $50M player and he hardly plays the entire season – that’s some terrible luck.


Right now, it’s 1-step forward, 1-step backwards. One game we are playing sweeping, one-touch football, the next, we are playing ponderous football with a lot of sideways and backwards passes. The consistency is not there yet. Also, i was personally surprised Arteta started with the same line up of Sunday. Lots of players ran their socks off that day and some needed rest. The fact that Saka is playing 90 minutes consecutively within the space of days is starting to worry me. Hope his case doesn’t turn into that of Wilshere who we overplayed and let him get injuries that… Read more »


We were good in patches but that last 15 minutes of watching Gabriel, Luiz and Xhaka passing to each other while Pepe and Martinez watched helplessly – I did ask myself why I do this to myself every week.


Was Martinez watching from Birmingham?


Obviously he meant Martinelli, but @eternalflamini I do agree with The Xhaka Gabriel Luiz passing it backwards and sideways and it’s mostly xhaka fault Gabriel would give him the ball to start an attack and xhaka would pass it back then he’d give to Luiz start an attack and he’ll give it back neither of them were taking responsibility in the last 15min especially when you’ve got Martinelli on who was ready to run behind fresh legs just play it over the top and let him chase they’re playing a highland anyway.. but this is my issue with Xhaka Luiz.… Read more »


I mean who knows, but I meant Martinelli obviously.


What a dull and frustrating night. Pitch was slow, Abu batteries flat, why the fuck did the feel the need to VAR our goal???

Oh well, we didn’t loose. Odegaard looks like he could be a serious player. Was surprised we didn’t make subs earlier. Got an away goal too…

Was it just me or was there a game being played next door? Kept hearing two whistles?


I know what you mean, I wonder if the fake crowd tape has whistles on it. Sounds like the bloody starlings round my house!


That’s exactly what I thought re the crowd tape 👍


Seemed like VAR was for Auba coming back from possible offside position and passing it back to Odegaard in the build to our goal.

A Different George

I was completely puzzled by that–Saka was quite obviously behind the ball, so I couldn’t figure out what they were looking at. In fact, they were looking at how to ruin football. How far back does a VAR review go? I know they talk about the “phase of play,” but if someone is narrowly offside–and NOT FLAGGED–and there are three or four more passes before a goal, then please, just play the game.

Spanish Gooner

I wondered about the pitch too – the ball seemed to be crawling between our CMs and CBs

Gunner Thesaurus

As Gattuso once said ; Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit. You cannot seriously tell me we were trying to win this game. I don’t care much about the strong line-up argument as that’s the only one you can possibly have but the way we played does not indicate a will to win. With the recent result against Leeds, I know it’s not very welcome to criticize the team but I hope whatever MA has in his eyes as the final version of this team doesn’t include more than 2-3 players that started today because the desire to win in… Read more »

Tristian Beale

If he wasn’t trying to win the game he wouldn’t have put that side out would he

Old Bloke.

Hope we don’t regret those missed chances come next week. Should have had at least a couple of away goals. Not looking forward to Sunday and City in their current form.


Got to be contender for most boring game this season. No energy or speed at all, and terrible finishing. With some hard games coming up we could have put this tie to bed and rested key players. Instead we’ve got it all to do in the second leg. Odegaard looks decent on a positive note

Jean Ralphio

The offsides were so frustrating. Some poor passing tonight cost us, but we tired as the game progressed and it all got a bit too sideways in midfield in the second half. Tierney needed those minutes to sharpen up. Subs took away the fluency (not a criticism of their effort, it just happens). Rest ESR and Saka against Man City with Leicester on the horizon. Xhaka had a poor game, I’m afraid.


Xhaka apart from one terrible pass was excellent. Made some great forward passes and made some crucial tackles. Still he’s Xhaka and must be the scapegoat


Well said! Not to mention that he has the most minutes in the squad. Should be appreciated much more in my opinion.

Spanish Gooner

This is a perfect game for demonstrating why the Xhaka divide exists. He didn’t make any calamitous errors, but he consistently slowed down play, turn back towards Gabriel/Luiz, and was largely responsible for our struggles to get the ball forward in the second half. He’s a good player for many situations, but today wasn’t one of them


I think he has his own limitations of course, but he is a Defensive midfielder. The resposibility for getting the ball forward is much more attached to Saka, Odegaard, ESR or even Ceballos.


Imo play this team v city . Defence but can counter attack , rest lads for Tuesday

Hector holding Mari Cedric (KT second half)
Elneny xhaka Dani C( Martin o second half)
Pepe Lacca Martinelli

Rest pea, saka ESR


should’ve been our lineup for benfica.

Give youth a chance

Can someone explain why the foul on Aubameyang just before he came off wasn’t a penalty, or even worthy of discussion by the commentary team?


I thought we played really, only poor finishing stopped us winning convincingly. Another day we could have 3 or 4 goals.


Auba looked like he’d eaten space cakes for supper, and so many offsides, was the pitch slow or just the players?


Is it me or de we really never look like pushing for a late goal at the moment. With 5 minutes to go I’m never thinking we can snatch one here


I am afraid Arteta is going to be a little conservative in these later stages of the competition.

Did you see our corners? I counted only 5 of our players in the box at any given time. That’s a far cry from what obtains normally. And there were many times where Xhaka dropped in to the left side of defense today to form something of a back 3 when Cedric attacked, instead of Xhaka pushing up.

Maybe the Olympiacos experience scarred him a bit.

Spanish Gooner

Think it could be a result of a lack of rotation. Saka, Smith Rowe, Ceballos, Bellerin, Xhaka have all played pretty much every game since Christmas, and they could probably all do with a break so they understandably start to tire late on. I’d like to see Pepe, Martinelli etc brought on 10-15 minutes earlier to give them a chance to get into the game and start affecting it, rather than The last 15 minutes when our passing had already gone stale


Oh dear!

Benfica are an average side and we should go through over the 180 minutes, but boy are we making it hard for ourselves!

Missed sitters and then a stupid penalty conceded means we’re now on a knife edge. We shouldn’t be.

Typical Arsenal!!


Only have seen Saka’s goal. Man oh man that young fella moves well. He reminds me of John Wooden saying, be quick, but don’t hurry.

I cant take my eyes off Saka. Gracious

Public Elneny

My god Benfica are a dull side. Is it unfair to say typical Portuguese football? High quality technical and tactically alert players playing slow paced, conservative dreck, relying on luck and favourable refereeing

I was massively impressed by their GKs positioning and anticipation tonight though, stopped 2 or 3 goals without having to make a save. I think he literally had Auba’s tap in covered even if it was right in the bottom corner, that’s probably what put him off. Don’t know how he managed to reach that ball over the top ahead of Saka in the 1st half


In fairness he looked about 7’8” tall…


And the one he got to ahead of Smith Rowe when Xhaka played the ball over the top. I literally screamed “how the fuck did he know his defender was going to miss that?!” He dashed out superhumanly quick.

Public Elneny

Oh yeah that’s the one I meant. And there was the ball over the top to Auba – gave him no obvious route to goal so he turned back and fucked it. And the offside Odegaard chance where he squared instead of shot, left no easy finish so caused him to be indecisive and pick a tricky ball across instead. I think there was another piece of impressing sweeping as well there somewhere. Not to excuse Auba’s finishing tonight but he did make it harder for him Looking at his wiki, seems he’s a bit of journeyman and this was… Read more »

Naija Gooner

Away goal…we move, also Xhaka is one of our best midfielders and I do like him but when he has these his ‘backpass’ game, it can be infuriating.


1 away goal means nothing


Yes it does. If we draw 0-0 in Greece, we’re through because of it.


We didn’t lose – so that’s a plus going into the “home” leg. It was never likely to be a goal-fest of the type Utd or Sp*rs had and it wasn’t Auba’s night. I was surprised he used Tierney, but at least he got through 30 mins or so without mishap (unless I missed something) which is another positive. Benfica are clearly a much tougher proposition than we were used to in the group stage so we’ll have to find our scoring boots somewhere but we live to fight another day/leg, so fingers crossed.


Really disappointed tonight. We had chances to make it easy for us bit unfortunately we had many players off.
The rematch will be a dangerous one.

Spanish Gooner

Did anybody mention to the team that away goals count? Ceballos was fantastic after the penalty playing a quick, direct ball out wide that led to our goal, then for the rest of the game we did nothing? Even after sending on Martinelli and Pepe, we just played keep-ball between the CBs and Xhaka – it was infuriating


Odegaard has got a massive engine, reminds me of Ramsey


Boring af


Really poor performance. Couldn’t see how we were trying to play – it started off playing back, enticing them up then playing through them, then our back line moved up but our midfield didn’t, leading to the never ending side to side/back and forth passes. Then we bring Tierney on who seems to move straight to left wing, with xhaka filling lb, dragging our midfield back even further?

Also, wtf is the point with all the subs in the last 10 minutes? Cedric and Odergaard best players on the night for me.

Coward team selection

That was a fearful selection tonight made of tired players from the game at Leeds. At 2 changes were needed. Now we gonna have an exhausted team to play the best team of the league. We also learned that Laca is not welcome anymore. Auba was wasteful and cannot link up. Sala was tired and off the pace. Same goes for ESR. Great game from Odegaard.

Billy bob

Disappointing game but got the away goal so that is positive, guess we ought to rest ESR, Saka and Auba against City – it might seem negative but chances of beating city are slim so lets save the legs for Benfica and Leicester


Surprised there was a start for ESR and Saka, disappointed with Aubas finishing, but glad he got into those positions.

Playing Xhaka, Ceballos and Luis slows our play down too much in my opinion and shows how much we miss Partey.

Glad to have Tierney and Martineli back. Now those two have some energy!

Hopefully a better performance in the second leg. We have to score first in that or we won’t break them down.


We need to use MÓ11 better in that sort of (Ozil) space he takes up. It’s like we’ve forgotten that idea and need to get to line and cut back all the time.


Ray Staunton

I love they way Saka controls his body for impact while still being able to hold onto the ball,it reminds me of Gascoigne.

Fireman Sam

Or Maradonna?


If Ray Parlour was our Romford Pele, then Bukayo Saka is our Ealing Eusébio for sure.

Paul M

I’m confused at what Ceballos actually brings us. He’s seen Partey come in and make a difference when fit, but when injured Ceballos comes back in the team, to pass backwards and sideways, no goals, very few assists, and there’s rumours we want to sign him permanently?? For what?


I thought he was one of our best players tonight


I’m confused as to why people cannot see how good Ceballos is. One of our best players tonight, worked hard made some good forward passes and made a crucial clearance in defence. I really hope we can sign him on a permanent basis together with Odegaard

David Hilliers Arm Cast

Going to try and be positive despite the performance of our “captains”.

That three behind the striker look so exciting! Flashes of brilliance all over the place and lots of goals are going to be coming from the three of them.


Let’s see what sort of performance we can produce on Sunday because if it’s not a step up from tonight we could be looking at a very soar kick up the arse.


We were the better team with better players,but you see that our youngsters are on the egde of breaking down. We need to give Saka and ESR a rest and that pretty soon. For my part I’ve mentally cancelled this season, both PL and EL, but I am very positive towards 21/22, the crop of talent we got are incredible, buy smart in summer window and we’re in for top 4 again

Granit(e) hard!

Jeez! is all I can say. The amount of times we have loads of players in acres of space and players just dwell on the ball and eventually pass safely backward is unbelievable.We certainly didnt play like we wanted it, so the result was not surprising. We could have taken these guys easy, yet we were playing conservative, safe, slow ponderous football. I would understand if these guys kinda have the reputation of being very dangerous, but they dont, they are just a bang average team, the question is why did Arteta chose to play them like they were Barcelona,… Read more »

Jason Daniel

#Wengerin…..His achievements weren’t that bad now eh?


On reflection and without alarm, I think we were the better team and that we will prevail over Benfica over the two matches. On the evidence of this match, there was very little evidence that Benfica possesses the players to hurt us and a lot to suggest that our defensive form is strong enough to keep them at bay. Strategically I thought our approach to the match and our attacking play was generally good. There were some really bright moments. We managed to find space and generate creative attacking movements when in possession. Better final balls and we’d be looking… Read more »


Arteta did not try hard enough to win the game. Late substitutions and not enough subs.

Ray Staunton

Best team drew!

Eddy F

Interesting how Martinelli was the chosen replacement for Aubameyang, and not Lacazette.

Pecking order changed somewhat in the last few weeks and is Arteta easing Lacazette out of the team for a summer sale?

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