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Benfica 2 - 1 Arsenal: match report

This is by far the most appropriate photo.
This is by far the most appropriate photo.

0 - 1 Robin van Persie 33' or thereabouts
1 - 1 Pablo Aimar 49'
2 - 1 Nolito 60'

Benfica defeated Arsenal today in a surprisingly aggressive affair, winning the Eusebio Cup in the process, which one supposes is only fair. (The cup itself was ugly; you wouldn't have wanted it, anyway). The first half went much better for Arsenal than did the second, particularly after they spun up to the speed of Benfica's pressing; the second half, well, was a bit poopy and hints at problems that Arsenal may have with squad depth this year.

Benfica have already played a round of Champions League qualifying, and thus their squad was fitter overall than Arsenal today. This was apparent in the first half, as from the off, Arsenal were struggling a bit with the speed and the intensity of Benfica's pressing. The Gunners found no room in the middle and could not maintain midfield possession for the first half hour or so, but they did manage to generate a little bit of threat down the flanks, primarily through the runs of Gervinho.

The Ivorian and Andrei Arshavin both tested keeper Eduardo as Arsenal started to penetrate the Benfica back four, and Gervinho Gibbs sparked the opener, taking an overlap from Kieran Gibbs Arshavin and getting to the byline before cutting a low cross which van Persie turned home from six yards.

The first half ended contentiously, though. Ezequiel Garay came in late on van Persie and trod on his foot; Robin was down for a few minutes and looked to require the cart before shaking it off. He was able to finish the half, and hopefully it's not a serious injury. Apparently the spikiness of that moment carried over, as there were unconfirmed reports on twitter of a bit of a tussle in the tunnel before the second half.

The second half underscored Aresnal's primary problem: squad depth. Emmanuel Frimpong, Armand Traore, Henri Lansbury, Marouane Chamakh, Carl Jenkinson, and Ryo Miyaichi all came in, as did Lukasz Fabianski. Fabianski and Miyaichi played well, but the rest of the side was shaky. And that's without even mentioning Sebastien Squillaci, who, well, is looking slow. He's fourth choice at the moment, of course, but he unfortunately encapsulates the dropoff in quality when you get past the first 13 or 14 squad members.

It did not help that Benfica were bringing on some shlubs called Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola at that moment, and the Lisbon men really started to give Arsenal problems. Aimar equalized soon after the half had started with an unmarked shot from the edge of the 18, and Fabianski had to make a number of saves from vicious rips throughout the half. The winner came a few minutes after Aimar's, as Nolito was able to take a pass from Aimar, turn Squillaci rather too easily, and fire home. Fabianski continued to do good work from then on to keep the scoreline respectable, but Arsenal did not look threatening at all during the second half.

Arsenal supporters are getting increasingly nervous about the season right now, which is understandable, perhaps, but it's important to remember that this was Benfica's best XI in the second half, and they're a really, really good side. Arsenal's depth is the biggest worry at the moment, of course, and that was apparent throughout the second half. Frimpong's positioning was not good, Squillaci was subpar, and there was no fluency in attack. Chamakh is suffering from poor confidence at the moment.

If Wenger has business up his sleeve, hopefully he does it quickly so that any additions can get in a groove with the team quickly; we await news on van Persie, who hopefully will not miss any time due to the knock he took in the first half. It's all a little unsettled in North London at the moment; Arsenal's first XI is more than capable, but they've never been the problem.

Next Saturday: the North, and the Premier League.