After a thoroughly entertaining match against Leeds United (which is the case for most games involving Leeds) the Gunners are returning to Europa League action after the winter hiatus. A Europa League that continues to hold importance for the club. Winning the tournament would jump Arsenal back into the Champions League after a four-year sabbatical, bring the financial boost of Europe’s top competition, and claim the Europa League trophy for the first time in club history. But the road is still long and up first is a two-leg tie with Benfica.
Leg one will take place in Stadio Olimpico in Rome, before traveling to Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece for leg two. Benfica is currently fourth in the Portuguese league and have just two losses in their last 13 matches. They could be without several defenders, including potentially two right-backs, which should hopefully see Martinelli and Pepe challenging the Benfica fullbacks from the start. Bring on the yellow cards and free-kicks. Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney are the only players expected to be missing Thursday, although the later is now back in full training.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Bukayo Saka
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Dani Ceballos
- Pablo Mari
- David Luiz
- Calum Chambers
- Mat Ryan
- Left Out: Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson & Alex Runarsson
- Out: Thomas Partey (hamstring) & Kieran Tierney (leg)
- With Arsenal in a commanding lead on Sunday, Mikel Arteta brought on Willian. Why? Because no one in the squad needed more of a boost than him (following Auba’s hat-trick). At that point, the potential gain for Willian outweighed wasting minutes on Lacazette, Pepe, or Martinelli. All three are more in-form options, but also because all three are now fresh to start on Thursday.
- In the midfield, considering Thomas Partey remains out, Elneny likely returns to the starting XI, and then it’s a series of choices from players who all featured on Sunday. Xhaka or Ceballos? At the 10 will it be Smith Rowe or Odegaard? Surely not, Willian....right? I’d opt for Xhaka and Odegaard, looking to take a lead out of leg one. I’d rather have Ceballos and Smith Rowe ready for Man City at the weekend, and I wouldn’t want to gamble a start on Willian now that we are in the knockout rounds.
- Tierney is back in training, but it’s doubtful Arteta rushes him back for leg one of this series. They need to take his (and Partey’s fitness) carefully for the rest of the season. Perhaps instead he can be fit in time for the City match on Sunday. As such, Cedric and Bellerin continue to be forced into every match and the CB pairing can be rotated from the Leeds win to bring in Rob Holding and Gabriel. I’ve given the nod to Leno, but if Arsenal can take a lead into leg two then Ryan should be suitable for a start. With Arsenal so far behind in the league, Arteta surely won’t give all of the Europa League to GK #2 as we’ve done in years past, will he?
- It’s a very strong bench once again - Auba, Saka, Smith Rowe, & Ceballos. I’ve opted to include Calum Chambers over Eddie Nketiah to give coverage for the fullback positions.
How to watch
Thursday (2/19) at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT on CBS All Access.
Arsenal - 2
Benfica - 0