The Benfica Dilemma: Go for it? Or Play it Safe? Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

Not Portugal. Or England.

The Europa League is our last chance of tangible success this season.

An amazing run in the league could get us into the top six or even challenging for a top four spot, but you’d have to be wearing very rose tinted glasses to place much store in that eventuality.

So that means that if we really want something to cheer, we’re going to have to win the Europa League… and that’s a tall task. It’s not that we don’t have the footballing talent to win it, more than there is a hell of a long way to go and any team needs the rub of the green to win a cup competition.

This is the round of 32, remember. With two-legged fixtures all the way except the final that means we’d have to get through 11 more games to lift the cup.

So, with Manchester City waiting for us on Sunday in the league, how should Mikel Arteta approach his team selection for tonight?

The logic would indicate that this competition should take priority, since if we win it we (a) get to drink a lot and celebrate a trophy (b) qualify for next year’s Champions’ League (a huge prize) and (c) get to laugh our socks off at the noisy neighbours (again).

But my suspicion is that El Patron is still wearing the old rose tinted spectacles as far as the league is concerned and will try to have it both ways, by putting out a fairly strong team in Rome but also keeping some key players back for Sunday.

At the time of writing, Tierney is back in training but Partey is still out. Everyone else is available. I can’t see Tierney being rushed back – he’s one of our most important players and has been struggling with niggling injuries ever since arriving in N5.

So what sort of starting line-up does that leave us with? Benfica are no pushover, even if their league form in Portugal has been indifferent since the start of 2021 (five defeats, one draw and only two wins in their last eight) so we certainly won’t be putting out a second-string eleven.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan given another outing in goal and Holding’s absence from the starting line-up against Leeds likely indicates a Holding-Mari partnership at centre back. Pepe will surely start, having been relegated to the bench last weekend. We could see Martinelli but I think he’ll be on the bench.

Here’s the team I expect:


Chambers – Holding- Mari – Cedric

Xhaka – Elneny

Pepe – Odegaard – Aubameyang


I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if I was miles out with that guess, but you never know.

If I’m close to being correct, then the starting eleven to face Man City (assuming Partey is still out) would be:


Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe


Whatever the personnel, here’s hoping an English club can beat a Portuguese one in an “away” fixture in Italy. What strange times we live in.

Come on You Gunners.



44 Responses to The Benfica Dilemma: Go for it? Or Play it Safe? Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

  1. LB says:

    Dear Mikel

    If we had every player fit and available for the weekend it is still highly unlikely that we would beat City, so that being the case surely it makes more sense to play the best 11 we can tonight?

    Yours, a loyal Arsenal supporter.

  2. Pete the Thirst says:

    Go in heavy first leg. Get the tie finished before the 2nd leg.

    Where have corrupt UEFA scheduled the final this season? Is it Ulan Bator.

  3. RockyLives says:

    It’s in Gdańsk, Poland Pete.

  4. LBG says:

    You are both wrong……Naypyitaw……China are looking for more workers!

  5. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky, I’m not au fait with the players available in our EL squad, but I would save our best players for Man City at the weekend. Momentum is important and I don’t see why we can’t get at least a point out of the game if we play with the sort of ambition we showed in the first hand against Leeds. I do think top 6 is a realistic goal. I’d probably start tonight with a team similar to yours with skins mine big guns on the bench … an away goal would be nice.

    If we get through the next couple of rounds in the EL our prospects in the EPL should be more apparent and we could channel maximum effort into the EL if all is going well.

  6. Pete the Thirst says:

    I had to look that one up LBG.

    Uefa could have tagged it ‘The Road to Mandalay’

    You read it here first!

  7. Aaron says:

    Enjoyed the satire from yesterday, maybe add dish hand.

    All in for EL.

    We are not going to get a point against $h*tTy if they play a full team, they are on a run, however if pup rests a few than just maybe. Think he is getting greedy thinking they can win both in same year, not going to happen.

    Forget about them, like the lineups, and want to see Martinelli play, and Partey come back health and ready to go.

  8. LB says:

    Well we have got to talk about something before kick off.

    So who else has had the vaccine?

  9. LB says:

    Which vaccine would you like sir?

    I think I would like the one that kills off the nasty tottenham variant.

  10. RA says:

    I like the LB call @ 8:53, but the bookies would possibly make the odds on us reaching the final, let alone win it, something like 16:1 against.

    Therefore, I might instead go with the Rasper @ 2:23, but those bookies might make our chances of beating S*itty something like 16:1 against, and any possibility of us making the top 6, as a result of us losing, possibly as low as 100:1 against.

    Neither option looks good, so I am happy with Arteteteta picking a team he thinks could surprise the bookies, and let Dame fortune take care of the top 6 position at the end of the season.

    Pete, Mandalay is in Myanmar, previously Burma, so I am puzzled what that has to do with China — not that I have ever heard of Nappychanger. 😳

    Walks off singing:

    On the road to Mandalay
    Where the flyin’ fishes play
    And the dawn comes up like thunder
    Out of China ‘cross the bay

    Ship me somewhere east of Suez
    Where the best is like the worst
    And there ain’t no Ten Commandments
    And a cat can raise a thirst

  11. RA says:


    re your vaccine question — you probably are thinking how terrible it was 100 years ago when it was normal to send children up chimneys to unblock them, despite it being detrimental to them — that was until the flue vaccine was discovered.

    Many are saying that the Russian vaccine is the best — but you are taking a chance putin that in your arm.

    My mate said: “I already got vaccinated with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine

    And I can təll you not to woяяy! I still doи’t seə anч sidə efectoski secundarioski и меня зовут Лопес Обрадор, и я коррумпирован и лжец и почему я даю чистые прямые награды.”

    So there you have it. 😁

  12. Sue says:

  13. Sue says:

    RA. You’re so funny!!

  14. RockyLives says:

    Well I got that one wrong.

    Same starting 11 as the Leeds game (I think).

    First time Arteta has named an unchanged side?

  15. RockyLives says:

    Really looking forward to Saka-ESR-Odegaard linking up again.

  16. Aaron says:

    Strong lineup going forward, so out attack them!
    If we need to keep it tight 1-0, I have my doubts with Luiz back there.

    Let’s see some more magic up front.
    Next game if Mikel does not rest Saka and ESR or other games soon, it will eventually be his undoing in the long run.

  17. LB says:

    Nice one RA

  18. GoonerB says:

    Sorry, late to the forum so will keep it unusually brief for me….. basically what LB said at 8.53 and then later at 5.13 is spot on. Now we can see the team I think that is our most in form available line up.

    And RA at 6.09, brilliant….. I went for the Japanese vaccine and developed the ability to speak backwards.

  19. GoonerB says:

    And learnt how to grow bonsai trees

  20. GoonerB says:

    Thinking of taking up sumo😳

  21. GoonerB says:

    Given up the Sunday roast for sushi

  22. GoonerB says:

    Better stop now before I commit harakirri

  23. RA says:

    GB, 😁

  24. GoonerB says:

    I’m guessing that even though neither game will be a traditional home and away that the normal away goals rule applies?

    This could put a focus on the tactics in each leg. For us away goals tonight are king so we should be going for an all out attack.

  25. Rasp says:

    It looks like Benfica have done their homework on us …

  26. RockyLives says:

    Haven’t seen us commit this many offsides since we had Adebarndoor in the side.

  27. Rasp says:

    From the replays, I’m not sure all those were actually offside Rocky

  28. RockyLives says:

    True Rasp – a couple have been level.

  29. LBG says:

    35 mins, one shot.
    All about speed of attack, dynamic passing.
    Back to the old ways. Need ten minutes of dynamic pressing and attacking.

  30. Aaron says:

    Should be up, yet just missing the easy finishes, some fine crosses and through balls.

    We can get this done, Mikel make a few minor adjustments, better bring on Martinelli and not Willian.

  31. LB says:

    Put Smith Rowe in his correct position and put Martinelli on the left flank.

  32. LBG says:

    16.8 % of possession only in Benfica’ s defensive third. Come on Gunners!

  33. Aaron says:

    Well f’n of course.
    Let’s respond and get the away goal!

  34. LBG says:

    Now if that does make you angry, Gunners, nothing will!

  35. Sue says:

    Starboy does it again 👌

  36. RockyLives says:

    Great reply.

    Now KT coming on.

  37. VP says:

    Thanks for all your ongoing great posts Rocky.

    Arsenal Going for It !!!

    I must say, I am loving the talent on the field. Arteta is putting together a great team.

  38. RockyLives says:

    Willian on… this is getting ridiculous.

    It must be some kind of contractual thing, surely?

  39. LBG says:

    Two shots on target in 95 mins. Martinelli and Lacazette to start next week. Smith-Rowe to play centrally. Hopefully no problems with KT. Elneny or even Partey in. Different game, different scoreline.

  40. GoonerB says:

    Ultimately frustrating considering the chances we had but not a disaster by any means. We just lacked a bit of sharpness and clinical edge with our finishing today.

    Benfica didn’t make it easy and looked very tough to break down with a back 5. Portuguese teams always seem tough to beat and well organised and we’re not the first EPL side that has struggled to convert general game dominance into a winning result.

    Still onwards and upwards. If we play like that next leg but get a clinical edge to the end product we should finish the job.

  41. RockyLives says:

    We looked pretty decent overall apart from the finishing.

    On another night we’d have scored four and, to be fair, they very rarely threatened us and got their goal from a pretty soft penalty.

  42. GoonerB says:

    LBG, the shots on target can be a useful sign to a teams play but often misleading as it doesn’t reflect good chances just flashed wide if the post.

    A 30 yard so so shot straight at the keeper that he catches easily can count as being on target but a clear goal scoring chance that just edges wide doesn’t get reflected in those stats but is far more important than some shots on goal moments. I think we had a few of those tonight.

  43. LBG says:

    I understand that analysis, but the contrast to make is that of Sunday’s game and tonight’s. I expect it to be different next week ( with the right team selection), but how much more confident we might be about the weekend if like Manure and Totteringham we had “sown it up” in this leg.

  44. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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