Arsenal take on Benfica in one of the most intriguing round of 32 ties in the Europa League this week with the strange dynamic that the first leg will be played at Roma and Lazio’s Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
While the Gunners will be ‘away’ this week, they will not be at the Emirates for the second leg either, instead ‘hosting’ the Portuguese giants at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Greece – the home of Olympiacos – in the deciding fixture.
Arsenal will be eager to grab an away goal at least, while there is the impressive feat from both sides of going unbeaten in this season’s tournament.
Benfica had to make do with a runners-up place in their group to advance to this stage, and they are well off the pace in the title race back home in the Primeira Liga, 13 points behind leaders Sporting Lisbon.
Jorge Jesus’s side may very well decide to prioritise the Europa League due to their underwhelming league fortunes in recent weeks.
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Mikel Arteta is likely to be thinking the same, with Arsenal currently sitting 10th in the Premier League table and he will be determined to avoid repeating last year’s humiliating last-32 exit to Olympiacos.
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In three previous games between these two sides, Arsenal have won two, while Benfica have won one, and it is likely to be a tight contest.
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Here’s everything you need to know about the game:
When is the match?
The game kicks off at 8pm on Thursday 18 February.
Where can I watch it?
The match will be shown live on BT Sport 2HD on TV. The match is also available to live stream on the BT Sport app.
What is the team news?
Benfica will need to solve their predicament at right back as both Andre Almeida and Gilberto are ruled out with injuries for Benfica, so Diogo Goncalves will continue to fill-in at defence.
Ex-Premier League players Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Otamendi and Adel Taarabt will renew their hostilities with Arsenal as part of Benfica’s starting XI.
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With the Gunners relying on the Europa League for a trophy this season, Arteta will put out his strongest team for this tie.
However, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney will not be fit for this match.
Nicolas Pepe is key for Arsenal, having scored three times and provided three assists in the group stage.
Given that Benfica are without their best two right-backs, they will have to do a lot to keep Arsenal at bay, with Pepe and a rejuvenated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang certainly featuring in Arteta’s starting line-up.
Predicted line ups
Benfica: Leite, Goncalves, Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo, Silva, Taarabt, Weigl, Everton, Nunez, Seferovic.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Aubameyang.
Benfica – 17/10
Draw – 13/5
Arsenal – 27/20
The Gunners are playing some slick stuff right now and their speed and combination play in the final third will be a problem for the veteran defenders Otamendi and Vertonghen, so we’ll lean towards Arteta’s men getting a narrow victory to take a big step towards qualification in the tie. Benfica 1-2 Arsenal.
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