What Arsenal must do to qualify in the second leg of their Europa League tie
Saka assesses his options in a disappointing draw in Rome. Getty Images/Danilo Di Giovanni

On paper, Arsenal's 1-1 draw away to Portuguese giants SL Benfica in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 32 sounds perfectly acceptable.

With context applied, however, the picture seems somewhat less rosy. The Gunners will feel that they should have put the tie to bed in the first leg, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing three gilt-edged chances that would likely have found the back of the net towards the back end of last season.

Although Bukayo Saka's close range finish cancelled out Pizzi's goal from the spot, the missed chances means that the tie is very much still alive and kicking ahead of the trip to Athens.

With such a slender away goals cushion, Arsenal will need to be switched on at all times to avoid a repeat of their calamitous exit to Olympiacos at the same stage last season, making the second leg perhaps the most important game in the Gunners season to date.

To make matters worse, Arsenal will have less than four days to prepare for the return leg, hosted in Greece due to coronavirus restrictions, as they play host to Premier League topping Manchester City in the Sunday evening kick-off slot.

Sitting tenth in the Premier League, every point is of vital importance in the hunt for European football for next season, meaning that Mikel Arteta will be unable to rest his key players ahead of the second leg tie.

Despite this however, the Spaniard will be confident that his side will be able to find the goals necessary to qualify after a largely dominant first leg.

The practicalities of qualifying:

So what does this result mean for Arteta's side with regards to qualification? In essence, the Gunners need to win outright in the return leg, as for the purposes of the competition they will be the "home" side, despite the tie taking place in The Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens.

The only draw that will take Arteta's team into the last sixteen of the competition would be a goalless affair, with a 1-1 draw taking the tie to extra-time and potentially penalties.

Any other goal-draw will see the Portuguese outfit qualify instead of the Gunners on account of the away goals rule. This means that any slip up will prove to be fatal next Thursday as the two sides face-off once again.

What Arsenal must do on the pitch to qualify

Benfica sprung a surprise on the Gunners by lining up with a back five for the first time in the competition this season, and it was one that Arteta's side were ill-prepared for.

The extra body in defence, combined with Saka and Emile Smith Rowe's tendencies to drift inside from their wide positions negated the width that Arsenal would normally play with, making it incredibly difficult to break the Portuguese outfit down.

Whilst Arsenal can take heart from the fact that they created the better opportunities in the tie despite this issue, to ensure success in the return leg they will have to move the ball faster than they did in this fixture.

The Gunners registered ten offsides across the first leg, at least in part because the ball was not being moved fast enough, and despite their dominance for large periods of the game, Arteta's side registered just two shots on target, half the number of their opponents.

Arsenal will likely be helped in this regard with the return of both Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney from injury, both of which will provide a huge lift as well as a boost of pace and directness.

Partey in particular is very effective at releasing the ball from midfield quickly and accurately, which may allow Arsenal's forwards to take advantage of the space left behind the ageing pair of Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen in the Benfica defence.

The addition of a more direct runner, such as Nicolas Pepe, on the flank may also prove to be beneficial in breaking down a well organised Benfica side.

Most importantly however, Arsenal must avoid their tendency of making silly errors such as those that have plagued their season to date, and appeared once again in conceding a soft penalty in Rome.

No Premier League side has had more red cards since Arteta took the Arsenal job than the Gunners, and another dismissal could prove costly to their chances of progressing. Despite Arsenal's dominance, it remains all to play for in the second leg.

VAVEL Logo