It’s not just the Champions League that makes its return this week, the baby brother is back in town too as the Europa League comes back too with the round of 32, including the Champions League drop outs.
One of the stand out ties of the round sees Portuguese giants Benfica paired up with north London side Arsenal in a game that will see two sides expected to get to the latter rounds of the tournament face off with each other.
Both sides have struggled domestically this season and could potentially see the Europa League as their best chance at European football next season, so may take this game extremely seriously which would produce some high quality, entertaining games.
The Lisbon side currently sit in fourth place in the Primera Liga having struggled massively under Jorge Jesus this season, 13 points behind local and fierce rivals Sporting. After inconsistent form earlier in the campaign, the Eagles were struck down by a squad-wide bout of COVID-19 that saw over ten players forced to isolate following positive tests.
It means that they have won just three of their last nine games in all competitions but they’re now nearing full strength once again and will be confident of scoring goals against Arsenal’s inconsistent defence.
The Gunners on the other hand have seen a good run of form come to an end in recent weeks, but bounced back at the weekend with a comfortable 4-2 win over Leeds United. The result saw star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang get his first league hat-trick for the club and make it seven goals in his last ten games for the club following an extended spell without a goal.
While Aubameyang is likely to be rested from the start in these games, with Arteta more inclined to use his large squad and rest key players, the fact they will have that calibre of player available to bring off the bench if needed is a big factor in the tie.
Arsenal have shown that they have the capabilities to defend well when they need to, but they’ve struggled to balance good defending with good attacking for the most part this season. With that said, they should prove too much for the Portuguese side.
The likes of Darwin Nunez, Haris Seferovic, Everton and Rafa Silva have the ability to cause Arsenal problems if they all play but I’m willing to bet that the Benfica manager will opt for a different set up that will hinder his side and Arsenal will be able to come away with progression into the last 16.
Benfica 1-1 Arsenal
Arsenal 3-1 Benfica
(Arsenal progress 4-2 on aggregate)