Arsenal's Europa League tie with Benfica could be played over one leg at neutral venue

Arsenal's Europa League tie with Benfica could be played over one leg; first leg of the last-32 tie is currently due to be played in Benfica on February 18, with the return leg at Arsenal's Emirates stadium scheduled for February 25

Image: Arsenal's Europa League last-32 first leg may not be played at Benfica's Stadium of Light

Arsenal and Benfica’s Europa League last-32 tie could be played over one leg on neutral territory under new rules issued by tournament organisers UEFA.

Arsenal are due to play the first leg of the round-of-32 tie in Lisbon on February 18, however, they may not be allowed to fly to Portugal because of government concerns about new coronavirus variants.

The two-legged tie is set to run into difficulties because of strict new UK coronavirus rules on arrivals from Portugal.

These would require Arsenal players and staff to quarantine for 10 days on their return from the first leg and bar Benfica from entering the country for the second leg.

One solution would be to play the match at a neutral venue, and UEFA's competition regulations for the Champions League and Europa League knockout phases allow for this possibility.

Image: Benfica are keen for the tie to be played at the Stadium of Light

Under rule K.1.8 of the respective competitions' rulebooks, it states "the UEFA administration…..has the right to assign an alternative venue for any particular match or even to decide that either or both legs of the relevant round to be rescheduled and/or played in a neutral country (within the territory of a UEFA member association) and/or organised as a single leg".

Arsenal are understood to be working on the basis of a two-legged tie played at neutral venues.

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The rules also provide for ties to be reversed, which could be an option for Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig.

Currently, flights to Germany from the UK are banned until February 17, the day after Liverpool are due to play the away first leg of their tie.

Reversing the fixture might solve the issue if the flight ban is not extended, but would also mean Liverpool ceding home advantage for the decisive second leg.

UEFA issued a statement related to the tie which read: "UEFA is in touch with the respective clubs and the German Football Association, who are in turn in contact with the German government."

UEFA managed to complete the final stages of the 2019-20 Champions League and Europa League competitions by playing a series of single-leg ties in Portugal and Germany respectively.

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