Benfica Round 2 – A Must Win: Prematch & Predicted Line-up

Not England. Or Portugal.

Poor finishing let us down in the first leg of our Europa League ‘Round of 32’ tie against Benfica in Rome.

We had the chances to be comfortably home and hosed but didn’t take them. We gave away a soft penalty and then equalised through Bukayo Saka (with what could be an important ‘away’ goal) but in the end had to settle for a point.

If we are a bit more clinical tonight it should be relatively straightforward to qualify, but you always have to beware of the word ‘should’ when it comes to European football.

We should have beaten Benfica in the return leg at Highbury in the European Cup in 1991, but we lost 1-3. We should have won the UEFA Cup final against Galatasaray in Copenhagen in 2000 but we didn’t. In general, given the quality of the teams we had in the George Graham and Arsene Wenger years, we should have more European silverware in our trophy cabinet.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic about tonight: it’s just a reminder that succeeding in Euro footy has never been easy.

We’re playing our ‘home’ leg in Athens as the Covid strangeness rumbles on, but the absence of crowds makes the whole idea of ‘home’ or ‘away’ redundant. However, the one way it could come into play is if the tie goes to extra time, in which case any Benfica goal in the added half hour would still count double, as an ‘away’ goal.

I have never thought that was a particularly fair law. The team that plays at home in the second leg gets 90 minutes (in the first leg) to score an away goal; the team that plays away in the second leg gets a potential 120 minutes to score an away goal. Anyway, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Team news is that Holding is unavailable because of concussion protocols and our only other doubt is Thomas Partey, but Mikel Arteta was making generally positive noises yesterday about the possibility of his being able to play.

In yesterday’s Post I wrote that I hope El Patron reunites the Saka-Laca-Smith Rowe unit that has produced some of our best football this season. It would require Smith Rowe being played more centrally rather than being shunted out wide to make way for Martin Odegaard.

The Norwegian looks to have the potential to be a class act, but I would prefer to see ESR who, to this observer at least, has emerged as one of our most effective players since getting his chance in the win against Chelsea.

Benfica never really troubled our defence in the first leg but they need to score at least once tonight so I’m sure we will have more defending to do in this game. Let’s hope we stay focused at the back and avoid the self-inflicted wounds that we’re so familiar with.

Here’s the team I expect to start:


Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Odegaard – Smith Row


The team I would prefer to see start would include the same back five as above (Tierney looked knackered in the Manchester City game on Sunday but hopefully his match fitness is returning) and the same pair at the base of midfield, but my attacking line-up would be:

Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang


Let’s hope whatever team we put out does the job and gets us into the Round of 16. At that point we’re only seven games away from a trophy and a berth in the Champions League next year…

Come On You Gunners!



54 Responses to Benfica Round 2 – A Must Win: Prematch & Predicted Line-up

  1. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – seems we duplicated again 😦 I ll delete my post

  2. RC78 says:

    Holy Grail (Trophy + CL qualification) be successful but here is a catch, if we lose tonight, we are out and if we draw 2-2 or 3-3, we are also out…So our hopes for a trophy winning and even interesting season may also end tonight. This is very grim since we are only in February 😦

    The positive news is that we definitely outplayed Benfica in Benfica and that our runs behind their high-line really troubled them. So I am going into the game with a glimmer of hope that we will win. Given the importance of this game and given the opposition style, I would play the following line-up:

    Leno – Cedric, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Saka, ESR, Xhaka, Pepe – Auba, Martinelli

    Let us go for it! I think Ceba and Laca could help us during the game but I would just go for it from the get-go. They play the high-line, so let them do it but they will be refrained if we play Saka, Pepe, Auba and Martinelli because they can really make the right runs behind the defenders….

    Expected line-up from Arteta@

    Leno – Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Tierney – Ceba, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Auba – Laca

    COYG! Let us not kill the season, just yet and let s keep our quest for the Holy Grail alive and kicking

  3. RockyLives says:

    Hi RC
    Sorry – just seen your note.

    Wanna put yours up as a comment?

  4. Pete the Thirst says:

    We all know what to expect from Benfica. The familiar Portuguese tactics of Maureen & Nuno: strangle the game, don’t concede and try to get a goal on the counter or set piece.

    We need to make sure we don’t make any rash challenges (Luiz!) and convert our chances when they come.

    We are favourites, but this team has a real ability to shoot themselves in the foot.

  5. RA says:

    Morning RC,

    Your comment re Posts and my shyness — I can only respond;

    I’m shy Hairy Melon, I’m shy,
    Writin’ Posts seems so naughty, oh, my!

    Men are so rough and I’m sure they will glare,
    They’ll verbally mock me, and moan, if I go there.

    The girls ain’t so rough as those ‘orrible men,
    They wouldn’t shout me to try, again and again,

    So I’d rather stay quiet, along with the girls,
    ‘Cos I’m shy, Hairy Melon, I’m shy. 😡

  6. RA says:


    Your team prediction is pretty good, except Holding is suffering from concussion following the City game, which might explain why he was not on top form — and should have been subbed earlier — but he will not play tonight as the protocol does not permit that.

  7. RA says:

    I don’t know if anyone else can remember a kid called Yunus Musah, who played in our youth team for a while?
    He seemed pretty good, but just disappeared from the scene near the end of the Wenger era.

    I have just read that another very promising youngster who played for Chelsea, called Jamal Musiala, who moved abroad has caused a fight between England, Deutshland and the US over who he should play for — (Germany) — and as a side note it turns out that Musah (18) went to Valencia, and the FA are trying to persuade him not to play for the US — so now we know what happened to him.

    Another good yoofer escaped us.

  8. RA says:

    Sorry, Rocky, I got a little distracted and did not say Good Morning, Guv, and I enjoyed reading your pre-match write up.

    You already addressed the Holding concussion, so my comment was not needed, but I think we could miss him, and as Luiz is always a disaster waiting to happen, I hope maybe the long awaited recovery from injury could see Calum Chambers back in the side instead.

  9. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky and RC. This game is massive in terms of us fans having some kind of dream of palpable success this season. I wouldn’t play Partey as he seems rather fragile when he comes back from injury. Let’s get him fully fit and then he can drive our midfield through to the end of the season.

  10. LBG says:

    Mesut had a disaster so far in Turkey!

  11. Aaron says:

    Like the line up, but going to change it up a bit,
    Cedric on left, Partey to start, ESR and Saka on the right, Laca in the center and Pepe on the left.
    Know it won’t happen, but that was our best team of form as of late.

    Just win this going away and all shall be forgiven this week.

  12. LBG says:

    Laca must be truly pissed off.

  13. fred1266 says:

    Yea odegard over him I would be aswell

  14. RockyLives says:

    Hmmm… wish we had Laca leading the line.

  15. RockyLives says:

    And hmmm…. would rather have ESR in the middle.

  16. LB says:

    It seems as though selection is based on keeping certain influential players happy rather than playing the best combination that we have. Can you imagine that happening at City?

  17. Rasp says:

    Great goal … we do need a second to start to feel we are in the driving seat.

  18. Aaron says:

    Oh I like that very much!
    Great work on the right, super vision by Saka and Auba the clinician!

  19. Sue says:

    Captain fantastic!!

  20. RockyLives says:

    Lovely goal.

    If we can get a bit more passing accuracy going we should feel confident about getting a second.

    We’ve had a lot of unforced passing errors so far.

  21. Aaron says:

    Of course, right before halftime.

    Mikel before have a damn good speech at the break, his job could depend upon it.

    Make some positive changes Mikel.

    AFC push on through!

  22. RockyLives says:

    Very silly of Ceballos to commit a foul there.

    Very well taken FK by the Benfica guy.

    This could get dicey now. If they score again we’ll need two more.

  23. Aaron says:

    Mikel better…..

  24. RC78 says:

    Another lead gone…unbelievable…

    I think it s gonna be down to our defending now…we need to keep make sure we do not concede anymore…

    If I were Mikel, I would bring in Martinelli or Pepe soon. Take Odegaard out asap. He is doing fine but I think Martinelli or Pepe would add more threat.

  25. RockyLives says:


    He’ll probably bring on Willian

  26. Aaron says:

    Then it might possibly be the last meaningful sub he makes at the club.

    Yes, to Pepe or Martinelli.

    Jesus going for it with those subs.

    Can Mikel counter?

  27. RockyLives says:

    Thanks Ceballos – that’s two goals you’ve caused.

    Willian for Smith Rowe? Jesus.

  28. RC78 says:

    So there you go…another defensive mistake. I mean, we can’t win games with these types of errors. Conceding such a goal is basically a crime at this level…Goalie’s assist after he collected a corner kick, what a joke.

    So this is the end of our season tonight unless a miracle happen.

    Also – I am a big fan of Rafa Silva and Grimaldo as you would recall…

  29. RC78 says:

    Why not Pepe and Martinelli or Laca? Arteta is out of his mind

  30. RockyLives says:

    There’s plenty of time to get two.

    Whether we can do it is another matter.

    Ceballos is a player I’d happily never see in an Arsenal shirt again.

  31. Aaron says:

    This might be the last 28 minutes I watch again this year.

  32. RockyLives says:

    Putting on Willian in a game where we need two goals in 25 minutes… sheesh.

  33. RC78 says:

    KT for President and Captain!

  34. Aaron says:

    A player that kid!
    Come on AFC let’s write our own story.

  35. RC78 says:

    Let us get Martinelli or Laca in for Odegaard and let us put Saka as RB and we can bring in Pepe too

  36. RockyLives says:

    It’s embarrassing watching a last 10 minutes where we desperately need a goal but we can’t get a touch on the ball.

  37. fred1266 says:

    We wanted a goal and this man send on Willian

  38. Aaron says:

    A goal when AFC needed it.

    Benfica killed by death.

    Tierney took one for the team.
    Saka with a brilliant cross and an Auba header..
    Mark it down…

  39. fred1266 says:

    Ceballos the new xhaka lol

    Who would have thought

  40. RockyLives says:


    Got out of jail there.

    Very average performance apart from a few players (Saka, Auba, KT).

  41. Sue says:

    It was never in doubt…. 😂😂
    Omg, talk about do it the hard way!! I’m hoping my heartbeat returns to it’s normal rate at some point this evening!! *wipes brow*

  42. GoonerB says:

    Anyone else just looked in the mirror and noticed a few more grey hairs or just looked at their hands and wondered what the hell has happened to their fingernails…….or is it just me?

  43. RC78 says:

    Thank you Tierney, Saka and Auba. Our best players.

  44. RockyLives says:

    Right, pull yourself together Rocky.

    Once upon a time, many many years ago, pulling out a win like this would have kept me happy all week, even if we hadn’t played that well. In fact especially if we hadn’t played that well.

    Nowadays we analyse everything so closely and look to criticise all the time (me very much included).

    I’m going to revert to how I would have viewed this win in 1987 or 1976…

    We did it! Come on you Gunners! The competition is ours for the taking.

  45. LB says:

    Saka, Saka, Saka……..

    Oooh and Tierney.

  46. Rasp says:

    Never in any doubt😂 We know who the good players are, we know which of the other players we can rely on to do a job. What we need now is the players who ave consistently underperformed to start producing.

    Willian did ok when he came on. Nice to see Chambers back on the pitch. Ceballos???? Do we need him when Partey is fit.

  47. LB says:

    What an odd feeling…….coming from behind and winning — bizarre.

  48. Sue says:

    The draw takes place tomorrow. Villarreal, anyone??!!

  49. RockyLives says:

    Are we still kept away from other English teams in the next round?

  50. Rasp says:

    No Rocky …. play spurs 3 times in 10 days anyone?

  51. GoonerB says:

    What’s interesting in Europe is how different teams and / or countries throw up a different challenge.

    The Portuguese teams seem to have that traditional Italian style of play where they make themselves difficult to break down while retaining high technical qualities that can make them dangerous on the break.

    If you miss your chances when dominant and gift a couple of mistakes then a 2 legged tie you have largely dominated can go against you. This almost happened to us but we pulled it round and deserved to be the team going through.

  52. fred1266 says:

    I say we don’t need ceballos at all still think willock could give us more than him

  53. LBG says:

    Still believe BOdegaard is diluting the Saka/ Smith- Rowe axis.
    So many of Mikel’s current selections are draining the team’s potential dynamism.

  54. RockyLives says:

    New Post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: