Date: 17th February 2021 at 12:38pm
Written by:

Arsenal will play Benfica in the first leg of their Round of 32 Europa League tie on Thursday.

The Gunners will travel to Rome, Italy to face Portuguese side Benfica at 8pm. The fixture will be held at a neutral venue, the Stadio Olimpico, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The match was originally set to be played at the Estadio da Luz ground in Lisbon. However, the UK implements strict coronavirus quarantine rules around people returning from Portugal.

Arsenal will face Benfica for the first time in 30 years, with their last meeting coming in 1991. Neither team have won the competition before but only one will get the chance to progress to the next round.

Mikel Arteta’s team go into this fixture as the only the side to have won all six matches in this season’s group stages, resulting in many punters using their Virgin Bet bonus code to back the Gunners. They topped Group B with a goal difference of 15.

Despite their excellent form in Europe, Arsenal have struggled domestically this season. They sit 10th in the league table, but a solid 4-2 victory against Leeds United on Sunday ended a run of three games without a win.

Like the Gunners, Benfica have also struggled for good form this season. Jorge Jesus’ side came second in the Europa league’s Group D behind Scotland’s Rangers. They finished unbeaten on 12 points, winning three games and drawing three.

The 37 times Primeira Liga champions have also only won one league game in their last six to put them fourth in the table and 10 points away from the top spot.

However, that does not mean this will be an easy ride for the Gunners. Benfica have proven to be tough competitors in Europe before, and this could be Arsenal’s most difficult test so far this season.

Team news

Arsenal were dealt with a huge blow last week, after midfielder Thomas Partey missed out on their win at the weekend with a hamstring injury. It is likely that he will be sidelined again on Thursday.

Kieran Tierney could also miss out in their mid-week affair, having been out for almost a month with a leg injury. However, these two players are their only injury worries heading into this fixture.

After scoring a hat-trick against Leeds at the weekend, Gunners captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks to be back to scoring form – and has now scored five in his last four games. He could be a real problem for their opposition on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Benfica have no new injury news but remain without the experienced defender Jardel – who is sidelined with a thigh strain.

The Portuguese side will be boosted by the return of Luca Waldschmidt, who has missed their last four game with a foot injury. He has already scored eight goals and produced four assists this season and came off the bench to play the last 15 minutes at the weekend.

Summary

This meeting will no doubt put Arsenal’s resilience to the test, with Benfica being their first strong opponents in Europe this season.

Mikel Arteta will hope that they can come away from this fixture with a victory but, with two legs to play, there is plenty of room for things to go wrong.

Their main aim will be to win the Europa League so that they can qualify for a Champions League place next season. Looking at their league form this competition will likely be their best opportunity for this, but will have to surpass Benfica first if they want to progress.