Arsenal’s season has survived beyond February after two goals in the final 25 minutes saw them come from behind against Benfica to progress into the last 16 of the Europa League.
The Gunners took the lead after a lovely reverse pass from Bukayo Saka found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who dinked it over the onrushing goalkeeper for his 12th goal of the season. A stunning free-kick from Diego Goncalves equalised just before half-time but the Gunners were in control for much of the game.
In the second half, a long ball from the goalkeeper should have been easily dealt with by Dani Ceballos but the Spaniard inexplicably tried to head the ball back to his keeper from just behind the halfway line, which Rafa Silva cut out before rounding Bernd Leno to put the Eagles ahead. Arsenal fired back just seven minutes later through Kieran Tierney, before Saka crossed for Aubameyang to head home three minutes from the end to seal the comeback win.
It was a big turnaround for the north London club and means that they keep their hopes alive of Champions League football for next season, and also means they have something to play for beyond this month.
Mikel Arteta’s side currently sit in 11th place in the Premier League after a horrid season which has seen them lose more games than they have won currently.
The performance showed signs of great character though, with many online on social media believing that once Benfica took the lead that Arsenal would crumble and crash out of the competition. It’s a sign of the progress they have made under Arteta this season, although it’s still fair to say that he has struggled so far as manager.
On the positive side for the Reds is that going forward they looked half decent once again. Saka got two assists and missed a sitter in the first half, Aubameyang scored twice and had another goal disallowed for a marginal offside which was created by a beautiful pass from loanee Martin Odegaard.
Defensively they looked shaky, with Benfica creating other chances aside from their goals and ultimately the Lisbon club let themselves down by trying to protect the lead far too early instead of just playing their regular game.
Arsenal will now look to push up the table in the Premier League when they take on Leicester City this weekend, who went out of the Europa League after a home defeat to Slavia Prague later on Thursday night.
Judging by Arteta’s team selections against Benfica however, he will be prioritising the Europa League – potentially seeing it as a more realistic path to not only a trophy but also to Champions League football next season.
Without it, Arsenal could have a blank European calendar in total come next season with even a top six position in the league looking a touch too far away for them right now.
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