Arsenal booked their place in the Europa League last 16 with a late 3-2 victory over Benfica on Thursday night.
The Gunners dominated possession from the first whistle and were patient in their approach play. They found an opening after 20 minutes when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang latched onto a through ball from Bukayo Saka to dink it over Helton Leite in goal. But for all Arsenal’s dominance, Benfica drew level after 43 minutes through a thunderous free-kick from Diego Goncalves and sent the game into half time at 1-1.
Arsenal never quite looked as comfortable in the second half having conceded so late in the first half, and found themselves 2-1 down after an hour when Dani Ceballos failed to head a long ball clear and gave Rafa Silva a free run at goal – from which he duly converted. Mikel Arteta’s side responded quickly with some substitutes and drew level on 67 minutes through Kieran Tierney.
The Scotsman’s goal alone wasn’t enough, however, and Arsenal continued to chase a third with Benfica leading on away goals. With three minutes of normal time left, Saka found Aubameyang again, who headed home at the far post to put Arsenal 3-2 up.
Benfica piled the pressure on in injury time, but Nuno Tavares’ header hit the post and the Gunners hung on for a hard-fought victory in Athens.
Bernd Leno (GK) – 5/10 – Leno could do nothing to stop a rocket of a free kick, nor could he do anything to bail out Ceballos’ miserable header which resulted in Benfica’s second. Frustrating evening.
Hector Bellerin (RB) – 5/10 – Overshadowed by the excellent attacking output provided by Tierney on the opposite flank. Bellerin still played in some inviting crosses at times, but nobody could finish them off.
David Luiz (CB) – 6/10 – Generally disciplined…perhaps for a change. David Luiz was the leader and kept the defence organised, but wasn’t troubled too often.
Gabriel (CB) – 5/10 – Gabriel was fine for the most part, but didn’t look convincing when having to defend one versus one.
Kieran Tierney (LB) – 8/10 – Tierney proved how vital he is to Arsenal with a number of intelligent forward runs. Brilliant work to start a move and finish it off with a crisp, accurate strike into the far corner that kept Arsenal in the game.
Dani Ceballos (DM) – 3/10 – Barely influenced the first half and gave away a cheap free-kick which allowed Benfica to draw level. Horrendous decision making after the break saw him again at fault as Benfica took the lead. Very bad night at the office.
Granit Xhaka (DM) – 6/10 – Key to Arsenal’s spells of possession and moved the ball forward with long passes. Also allowed the full-backs to bomb forward by dropping between the two centre backs.
Bukayo Saka (RW) – 9/10 – Unbelievable pass to assist Aubameyang for Arsenal’s opener and was keen to run beyond Benfica’s defence when in possession. Popped up as the de-facto right back to provide a game-winning assist, again to the captain. A special talent.
Martin Odegaard (AM) – 5/10 – Odegaard influenced play a little with some quick passing in fleeting spells. Nothing outstanding, though, and struggled to break through central areas. Could’ve taken more risks.
Emile Smith Rowe (LW) – 5/10 – Not quite as influential as the wide man with Odegaard occupying the central position. A couple of nice touches, but didn’t assert himself.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) – 9/10 – Perfectly timed run and an impressive, dinked finish to give his side the lead. Clinical as he found the net shortly into the second half, but was judged to be offside, but made up for it later by heading home late on. A true captain’s display.
Willian – 7/10 – Provided an important impact from the bench, playing a sharp one-two with Tierney to grab an assist.
Thomas Partey – 6/10 – Immediately more dominant and more progressive than Ceballos, winning balls in midfield and swiftly moving play forward.
Alexandre Lacazette – N/A
Mohamed Elneny – N/A
Calum Chambers – N/A