Saka now has six goals for Arsenal this season, with Thursday being his first in the Europa League this season
Bukayo Saka warned his Arsenal team-mates that they couldn’t go wrong in the return leg of the last 32 Europa League games against Benfica after his goal earned them a draw in their first game in Rome.
The Gunners played in Rome’s Olympic Stadium instead of Portugal for Covid-19 reasons. They were the better team but failed to take advantage of a few chances in the first half before falling back to a Pizzi penalty.
They were quick to react, however, when Cedric Soares hit rock bottom for English winger Saka at close range.
The English winger is now determined not to inflict the same European fate on his side as last season when Olympiakos advanced to their last 16 away goals in the last minute of extra time at Arsenal’s expense.
“It’s about managing the game,” Saka told BT Sport. “We conceded a stupid goal last year when we went to Olympiakos. We can’t go wrong because if we do that we will make it difficult for ourselves.”
“We had a lot of chances tonight. We dominated the whole game. They got a lucky penalty, which I don’t believe. We had to react well.”
“We got a goal back and we could have won it. It’s not the worst result, we scored an away goal.”
Benfica’s penalty was missed when Emile Smith Rowe blocked Diogo Goncalves’s cross. Pizzi turned into a tournament high of seven.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had just scored a hat-trick against Leeds in the Premier League, had two big chances in the game but was inexplicably far from goal with a 0-0 draw from close range and then drew 1: 1 from the gate from -1.
In positive news for the Gunners, left-back Kieran Tierney and striker Gabriel Martinelli returned welcome as substitutes in the second half after injury.
The second leg will take place in Athens in a week, between two big league games for the Gunners – a visit to Manchester City in the Emirates and a trip to Leicester.
Saka to the rescue, as there are great chances of begging
Arsenal have been improving both in terms of performances and results over the past few weeks. Due to the inconsistent start of the season, the Europa League was probably the most realistic way back to the Champions League.
The Gunners’ starting XI suggests Mikel Arteta will agree. The Spaniard names the same team that started Sunday’s impressive 4-2 win against Leeds in the Emirates.
Notably, it’s the first time Arsenal have named an unchanged XI since September 2018, but it brought with it some of Sunday’s offensive prowess, particularly at the bottom right, with Hector Bellerin posing a constant and energetic threat.
What was missing, however, was a similarly fatal finish, particularly from hat-trick hero Aubameyang over the weekend.
It can be excused why his second chance was missed as it is close but not his first.
Bellerin’s low cross put the blow on a plate for the striker, but somehow found a way to place his shot past the post instead of into the net the bit belonged in.
Fortunately, Saka was sharp enough to land on the other end from a similar distance if necessary. The goal was his 10th in a Gunners jersey and further proof of his rapidly growing importance to Arteta’s side.
Since the beginning of last season, the 19-year-old has become the youngest Premier League player to have scored more than 10 goals and made more than 10 assists in all competitions.
“We were very dominant and created great opportunities,” Arteta told BT Sport. “We have to be more ruthless. It was disappointing how we conceded the goal. We gave them the ball, then it was 1-1 and all we had to play for.”
“We conceded a corner, then we didn’t react quickly enough from the corner and we conceded the penalty. When you look at it, it’s difficult to judge. We had a great reaction and scored a great goal.”
“We tried to keep the level. Both teams fell in the last 20 minutes. But overall we should leave the ground with more.”
Benfica’s line-up consisted of a number of former Premier League players, including ex-Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen and Mercury midfielder Adel Taraabt, who entertained and enraged Tottenham and QPR fans alike.
The Moroccan’s only notable contribution came in the middle of the second half in the form of a driving run and incisive pass to find Everton rolling a shot just past the top corner of Bernd Leno’s goal.
There were no further great chances for either side, so everything could be played in Greece.
Pizzi emulates a real big one
- Pizzi is the first Portuguese player to have scored at least seven goals for Benfica in a single European season since Eusebio did so during the 1970/71 European Cup Winners’ Cup (also 7).
- Since the start of the 2019-20 Europa League season, only Bruno Fernandes (10) has scored more goals in competition than Benfica’s Pizzi (9).
- Pizzi’s kick-off from the penalty spot was Benfica’s 100th goal in the Europa League, one of only eight clubs to have hit that figure since the 2009/10 season opened.
- Arsenal have managed to progress from 13 of their previous 16 knockout games in major Uefa competition when they pulled or won the first leg away, despite one of their eliminations at this stage of the Europa League last season against Olympiakos.
- Benfica remain undefeated in each of their 26 home games in the Europa League (W20 D6) – this is at least 15 home games more than any other team that has not yet lost a home game in the competition (Chelsea, 11).
Player of the game
4thVerissimo da Silva30thOtamendi5Vertonghen
17thGoncalves Cupid21stAfonso Fernandes28Weigl49Taarabt3Grimaldo
- 77Aleixo Leite
- 4thVerissimo da SilvaReplaced byMachadoat the 85 ‘protocol
- 17thGoncalves Cupid
- 21stAfonso FernandesReplaced bySousa Soaresat the 64 ‘protocol
- 49TaarabtReplaced byAppeal Piresat the 77 ‘protocol
- 10WaldschmidtReplaced byFerreira Silvaat the 45 ‘protocol
- 9NunezReplaced bySeferovicat the 64 ‘protocol
- 7thSousa Soares
- 8thAppeal Pires
- 27Ferreira Silva
- 38Delmino da Silva
- 82Fonseca Ferreira
2Bellerin23David Luiz6thGabriel17thCédric Soares
- 23David Luiz
- 17thCédric SoaresReplaced byTierneyat the 64 ‘protocol
- 8thCeballosReplaced byElnenyat the 90 ‘protocol
- 11ØdegaardReplaced byWillianat the 90 ‘protocol
- 32Smith RoweReplaced byMartinelliat the 77 ‘protocol
- 14thAubameyangReplaced byGrandpaat the 77 ‘protocol
End of game, Benfica 1, Arsenal 1.
The second half ends, Benfica 1, Arsenal 1.
Handball by Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal).
Substitution, Arsenal. Willian replaces Martin Ødegaard.
Substitution, Arsenal. Mohamed Elneny replaces Dani Ceballos.
Foul by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal).
Rafa (Benfica) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Away from Arsenal. Dani Ceballos attempts a pass, but Bukayo Saka is caught offside.
Substitution, Benfica. Chiquinho replaces Lucas Verissimo because of an injury.
Away from Arsenal. Granit Xhaka attempts a pass, but Kieran Tierney is caught offside.
Gabriel Magalhães (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Haris Seferovic (Benfica).
Substitution, Benfica. Gabriel Pires replaces Adel Taarabt.
Substitution, Arsenal. Gabriel Martinelli replaces Emile Smith Rowe.
Substitution, Arsenal. Nicolas Pépé replaces Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Missed attempt. Everton (Benfica) right-footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses the top right corner. Prepared by Adel Taarabt.
Foul by Gabriel Magalhães (Arsenal).
Rafa (Benfica) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Héctor Bellerin (Arsenal) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, arsenal. The corner was scored by Diogo Gonçalves.