This is where the Europa League and a chance at the Champions League slipped away last season. After taking an advantage into the second leg, an extra-time goal from Aubameyang had the Gunners moving on. That is until a late goal in the 120th minute by Olympiacos saw the tie turn in the final moments. Thursday will be Arsenal’s home leg of the tie due to COVID-19 restrictions, which as fate would have it is set to be played at Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, the home of Olympiacos.
In the first leg, Arsenal controlled much of the possession but failed to make much of it. Saka’s goal was just one of two shots that were on target. Much of the day was summed up by Aubameyang’s missed tap-in. However, the away goal gives the Gunners a bit of an advantage and they’ll expect to be able to limit Benfica’s chances once again.
If Arsenal advance on Thursday, the draw for the next round will take place on Friday, with those matches being played on March 11th and 18th. After several players featured in leg one and again against Manchester City, how should (can) Mikel Arteta set up his lineup knowing the importance of this match and the current fitness strains being placed on the team?
- Alexandre Lacazette
- Eddie Nketiah
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Thomas Partey
- Mohamed Elneny
- Calum Chambers
- Cedric Soares
- Mat Ryan
- Karl Hein
- Left Out: Reiss Nelson
- Out: Rob Holding (Concussion) & Alex Runarsson (Left knee)
- After yet another double match week, Arsenal will get a full week off following Leicester on Sunday. But there is simply little room for resting players, especially considering this could arguably be the club’s most important match so far this season. Arsenal is 11 points out of 4th place, and while that is still mathematically possible, it’s a long shot. This is why we need the best possible XI here.
- Arsenal need to attack early and look for a solid lead by halftime, which is why that attacking front four is called upon again — despite last week’s flat performance. Tierney can’t, or at least shouldn’t, go the full 90 again. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cedric start, depending on how Tierney recovered from the Man City match. And in midfield, Ceballos should return. He can link up well the attacking trio in front of him, while Xhaka provides backline coverage as either fullback presses forward.
- If Thursday looks to be a repeat of the match in Rome, Arteta needs to make an attacking change earlier this time. Martinelli would be an ideal second-half sub in that scenario and is fresh after he wasn’t used on Sunday. If Odegaard isn’t ready for four straight starts, Martinelli on the left with Smith Rowe sliding inside would keep the attack dangerous and unpredictable.
- [Update] With Rob Holding confirmed out due to concussion protocols, David Luiz comes in and Eddie Nketiah moves onto the bench. Hopefully, Rob is all clear and back in the starting XI against Burnely on March 6th.
- The 12 man bench in the Europa League allows nearly every senior player to be included. With Runarsson likely still ruled out, Karl Hein from the U23s would be called in again to ensure the team has goalkeeper coverage for the trip to Greece. Nelson seems to be out of favor at the moment and the least likely to see action on Thursday, having also recently played for the U23 side. But unless there is a setback Thomas Partey should at least make the bench as he works back from his latest injury this season.
How to watch
Thursday (2/25) at 12:55 pm ET / 9:55 am PT on CBS All Access.
Arsenal - 2
Benfica - 1
The Gunners advance with a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.