Arsenal defeat Benfica 3-2 in a thrilling encounter to make it to the UEFA Europa League round of 16.
It was a slow start to the game, as Benfica sat back and let the Gunners have more of the possession, with the Portuguese side playing more on the counters in early exchanges. The Eagles looked threatening every time they won possession back. However, it took Arsenal only 20 minutes to break the deadlock with the first opportunity of the game, when Bukayo Saka’s delightful weighted pass was expertly taken by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It was a rather quiet first half from Benfica as they did not create any chances to threaten Bernd Leno’s goal. But in the 42nd minute, Dani Ceballos conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area, and Diego Goncalves levelled things up for the Portuguese outfit.
Benfica played with newfound confidence after the restart, and capitalized on another mistake by Ceballos in the 61st minute after his headed back pass to Leno found Rafa Silva, who showed excellent composure to dribble past the goalkeeper to score into an open goal. The Gunners reply was immediate after substitute Willian’s back pass found Kieran Tierney, whose perfectly driven shot led to an equalizer in the 67th minute.
Arsenal struggled to create any chances until the 87th minute, when a moment of magic from Bukayo Saka, who produced an inch-perfect lob for Aubameyang, led to the winner. This victory takes Mikel Arteta’s men to the Round of 16 of this competition. Let us take a look at how Arteta’s team fared.
Bernd Leno: 6/10
Beaten by a free-kick from the top drawer in the first half and was unlucky to concede the second goal by Rafa Silva after a poor mistake by Ceballos. Was rarely troubled otherwise.
Hector Bellerin: 5.5/10
Had a quiet first half where he did not offer much in attack and was troubled by Grimaldo’s movement. Showed more intent in attack in the second half but his end product was lacking. Replaced by Lacazette in the 77th minute as the Gunners searched for the winner.
David Luiz: 6/10
Largely untroubled by Benfica’s attack in the first half, organized the defence really well but struggled with his passes.
Gabriel Magalhaes: 6/10
Handled Haris Seferovic really well, winning most of the duels against the big striker in the opening 45 minutes, but struggled post the restart against Darwin Nunez as the Uruguayan troubled the defender on more than one occasion.
Kieran Tierney: 7.5/10
Kieran Tierney's goal was his first shot on target for Arsenal in the #UEL.
What a finish. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/P1NbMB7nv6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 25, 2021
Struggled to get going early on in the first half but improved after the break as he got forward more often and pumped in crosses into the box. Capped his performance with a brilliant goal to make it 2-2.
Dani Ceballos: 4/10
Worked hard in the initial stages to keep the Gunners ticking, but conceded the free-kick that led to Benfica’s equalizer and was at fault for the second goal as well. A performance he will want to forget. Subbed for Thomas Partey in the 63rd minute.
Granit Xhaka: 7/10
Granit Xhaka vs Benfica:
•78 Accurate Passes
•91% Passing Accuracy
•3/4 Long Balls
•1 Shot on Target
•1/1 Ground Duels
•4 Aerial Duels Won
•100% Duels Won
•1 Tackle Won
Incredibly composed in spite of his partners inability. pic.twitter.com/JApFZPI4rS
— . (@XhakaStat) February 25, 2021
The Swiss midfielder made himself available for passes from his teammates and distributed the ball well in the opening half, showcased his wide range of passing in the second half and provided some wonderful long passes to his forwards.
Bukayo Saka: 8.5/10
Was subdued by the Eagles defence in the initial stages, however, it took the teenager just 20 minutes to show his quality with a wonderfully weighted pass to Aubameyang for Arsenal’s first. Set up the winning goal with a delightful lob for his captain who headed it home from close range. The best player for the red and whites at the moment.
Bukayo Saka's game by numbers vs. Benfica:
100% aerials won
92% passing accuracy
5 touches in opp. box
2 ball recoveries
2 chances created
2 good. ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/9UogxlDB3j
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 25, 2021
Martin Odegaard: 7/10
The Norwegian showed good close control and passing range in the first half. Linked up well with Emile Smith Rowe and Saka to exchange a few intricate passes in the opposition half. His influence in the Gunners midfield is growing with each game. Subbed off in the 90th minute for Mohamed Elneny.
Emile Smith Rowe: 6/10
Was sharp to pounce on any loose balls in the midfield, ran his socks off but could not create any opportunities for his team. Subbed off for Willian in the 63rd minute.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang: 8/10
Took the opening goal of the game with aplomb with a composed finish past Helton Leite. Scored the winning goal 0f the match, which took his team to the next round of this competition. A clinical performance from the striker.
⚡ Just Auba things… pic.twitter.com/1AQTKVe7VO
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 25, 2021
Assisted Tierney for the second goal, made decent runs on the left side of the field. A rare positive performance for the Brazilian in an Arsenal shirt.
Thomas Partey: 6/10
A rather quiet cameo for the Ghanaian midfielder. Looked off the pace as he was making his return from an injury.
Alexandre Lacazette: N/A
Subbed in for Bellerin, did not do anything noteworthy.
Calum Chambers: N/A
Brought on in the 90th minute in place of Saka to defend the one-goal lead.
Mohamed Elneny: N/A
Brought on for Odegaard in the 90th minute to defend the lead.