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Benfica vs Arsenal. Europa League Round of 32.

Olimpico.

Benfica 1

  • Pizzi (55th minute pen)

Arsenal 1

  • B Saka (57th minute)

Benfica 1-1 Arsenal: Bukayo Saka's quick equaliser sees Gunners score away goal in Europa League last-32 tie

Report as Bukayo Saka equalises with a tap in; Pizzi gave Benfica the lead after Emile Smith Rowe was penalised for handball; the return leg will be played at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece - home of Olympiakos, who knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League last season - next Thursday

Bukayo Saka celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after equalising against Benfica
Image: Bukayo Saka celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after equalising against Benfica

Bukayo Saka's quick equaliser saw Arsenal grab an important away goal in a 1-1 draw against Benfica in their Europa League last-32 tie in Rome.

It has been a cagey first half at the Stadio Olimpico and Arsenal should have gone into the break in front, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired just wide with only goalkeeper Helton Aleixo Leite to beat.

But the game livened up after the break and Benfica were awarded an early penalty when Emile Smith Rowe was penalised for handball. Europa League top scorer and captain Pizzi (55) dispatched from the spot.

Arsenal's incredible unchanged record

Arsenal (vs Leeds and Benfica) named the same starting XI in consecutive matches for the first time in over two years, since doing so back in September 2018 against Cardiff (won 3-2) & Newcastle (won 2-1).

However, their lead only lasted a few minutes as Arsenal hit back almost instantly. Cedric Soares, who started his career at Benfica's fierce rivals Sporting Lisbon, fired in a cross that was turned home by Saka. VAR checked the goal for offside - Arsenal were flagged 10 times during the game - but it stood.

The last-32 tie is finely poised for the second leg next Thursday in Athens with Arsenal holding a slender advantage with the away goal.

How Arsenal hit back against Benfica

Benfica's Pizzi scores from the penalty spot against Arsenal
Image: Benfica's Pizzi scores from the penalty spot against Arsenal

Arsenal began well in Rome and should have taken the lead inside 20 minutes. Hector Bellerin sent a fizzing cross in from the right, which met an open Aubameyang at the far post. However, the striker could only place his effort wide of the post from close range in an agonising miss.

Arsenal had another sight of goal shortly after, but after a driving run along the top of the area from Saka, his effort curled harmlessly into Helton Leite's hands. Bernd Leno almost fluffed his only save of the half as Darwin Nunez fired straight at him, spilling the shot before pouncing on the loose ball.

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Player ratings

Benfica: Leite (7), Verissimo (7), Otamendi (7), Vertonghen (7), Goncalves (6), Taarabat (6), Weigl (6), Pizzi (7), Grimaldo (6), Waldschmidt (6), Nunez (6).

Subs used: Rafa (7), Seferovic (6), Everton (7), Gabriel (6), Chiquinho (6).

Arsenal: Leno (6), Bellerin (7), Luiz (6), Gabriel (6), Cedric (7), Ceballos (7), Xhaka (7), Saka (7), Odegaard (8), Smith Rowe (7), Aubameyang (6).

Subs used: Tierney (6), Pepe (6), Martinelli (6), Willian (n/a), Elneny (n/a).

Man of the match: Martin Odegaard.

Benfica had one of their chances of the half in injury time. Alex Grimaldo nipped through to take advantage of a wayward Granit Xhaka pass, but his attempted cross pinged off the head of Soares before going behind for a corner.

The second half was a much livelier affair and eight minutes in, Benfica were awarded a penalty. Diogo Goncalves' attempted cross from a short corner hit Smith Rowe on the chest and onto his raised arm, with the referee pointing to the spot. Benfica captain Pizzi then slotted home past Leno to hand the designated hosts the lead.

But it lasted all of two and a half minutes. A superb Martin Odegaard pass picked out Cedric down the left of the area, with his zipped cross turned home by Saka from close range. VAR checked for offside but it was allowed to stand as Arsenal nabbed the all-important away goal.

Team news

  • Three former Premier League players lined-up for Benfica. Jan Vertonghen and Adel Tarrabt are former Tottenham players while Nicolas Otamendi used to play for Man City. Lucas Verissimo made his debut.
  • Arsenal named an unchanged side from the weekend win against Leeds. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit a hat-trick in that game and captained Arsenal in Rome, while Martin Odegaard made his European debut for the club.

Both sides went close soon after as the half continued apace. Leno made a fine, leaping save to keep out half-time substitute Rafa Silva. But it was not Aubameyang's night at the other end as he sent another effort wide, this time past the far post, taking a small nick off the woodwork on the way through.

There were some half chances as the game continued but neither side could take them and had to settled for a first-leg draw.

Man of the match - Martin Odegaard

Martin Odegaard shone for Arsenal on his second start
Image: Martin Odegaard shone for Arsenal on his second start

It was an impressive performance from the Real Madrid loanee on only his second Arsenal start. He made some superb passes throughout and flourished in midfield - and it was Odegaard's brilliant ball to pick out Cedric on the left that led to the goal.

The only downside was that more of his passes did not manifest into goals. If it has only taken a handful of games for Odegaard to be this good for Arsenal, it bodes well for the future.

Arteta: We should have got more from the game

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a string of chances for Arsenal 0:28
Mikel Arteta says Arsenal were not ruthless enough in Benfica’s box and believes there are ‘positives’ to take from their 1-1 draw against the Portuguese side.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta told Arsenal Player: "My feeling is that we should have got more from the game from the amount of chances that we created and the dominance that we showed in the game.

"We should be in a much better position than we are, we haven't been ruthless enough in the opponent's box and then we gave them a goal with the actions leading to the corner and then the handball. Everything is still to play for on Thursday.

"I think it [the penalty] is harsh. He touches the ball maybe on his body before it touches his hand. I'm more upset about what led to the corner in an area we should not be playing than the penalty.

"To be fair, the reaction from the boys was brave, we continued, we didn't lose the focus, we went for the goal and to win the game. We scored a goal and I think we should have scored two or three more.

"I am positive [for the second leg]. It's really difficult to see what the 'home' game is going to be like. We're going to be playing in Greece with no crowd and everything will be a bit strange but we're going to go there to win the game."

Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus added: "Our ambitions remain. The tie is open, it is true that the away goal can have an influence in the end. It's another game away in Greece that we're going to try to win. We played against a team that has a lot of quality and great players."

Opta stats

Pizzi celebrates his penalty for Benfica
Image: Pizzi celebrates his penalty for Benfica
  • Arsenal have managed to progress from 13 of their previous 16 knockout ties in major UEFA competition when either drawing or winning the first leg away from home, though one of their eliminations did come at this exact stage of the Europa League last season vs Olympiakos.
  • Benfica remain unbeaten in each of their 26 UEFA Europa League matches at home (W20 D6) - this is at least 15 more home matches than any other team who is yet to lose a home game in the competition (Chelsea, 11).
  • Pizzi's opener from the penalty spot was Benfica's 100th goal in the UEFA Europa League, one of just eight clubs to reach this total since the inaugural season of the competition back in 2009-10.
  • Since the start of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League campaign, only Bruno Fernandes (10) has scored more goals in the competition than Benfica's Pizzi (9).

What's next?

Live Renault Super Sunday

Arsenal are back on Sky Sports on Sunday as they host Premier League leaders Manchester City; kick-off 4.30pm. Benfica face Farense in the Primeira Liga, also on Sunday.

The pair will then travel to the Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece - home of Olympiakos, who knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League last season - for the return leg next Thursday.

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