The first legs of the round of 32 get underway this Thursday and Arsenal go into this game with their 100% win record still intact. The Gunners have scored three or more goals in five of the six games that they have played in this seasons UEFA Europa League.
Benfica pose a threat that Arsenal simply cannot underestimate. Familiar faces Jan Vertonghen and Nicholas Otamendi are likely to play a role and make up a centre back pairing for Benfica.
Arsenal’s dynamic Thomas Partey will miss this tie due to an injury that the Ghanaian picked up in Arsenal's defeat vs Aston Villa. This fresh injury for Arsenal’s midfielder is expected to keep him out for around two weeks. It is understood that Partey signalled to Arsenal’s bench about some discomfort in his thigh before being replaced by Willian in the final 15 minutes of the game. Partey did not feature at all in Arsenal’s matchday squad where the Gunners enjoyed a 4-2 Victory against Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal were hopeful Kieran Tierney would be fit to face Leeds at the weekend. However, the 23-year-old Scotsman failed a late fitness test with an upper leg injury. Mikel Arteta has revealed that the left-back has an outside chance of being fit to face Benfica. Tierney returned to full training and trained with the first team on Tuesday ahead of Thursday night’s game.
The Gunners hope Pablo Mari will play his first significant role in the side since his injury that has kept him out of the team in the past month. The 27-year-old former Flamengo centre-back struck up a solid partnership with colleague Rob Holding before injury forced the Spaniard to the sidelines.
Predicted Arsenal line-up
Ryan; Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Cedric, Ceballos, Elneny, Pepe, Odegard, Saka, Lacazette.
Ones to watch
Bukayo Saka has been the shining light of Arsenal’s season so far and now has the chance to perform on Europe’s stage. The 19-year-old English winger stands out with his powerful runs and tricky feet. Defenders struggle to keep up with his unpredictable movement as well as his ability to protect the ball in tight situations. Saka will cause Benfica’s backline all kinds of problems and hope to get lots of joy down the right-hand side of the pitch.
Gabriel Martinelli could be set to feature for the Gunners this Thursday. The 19-year-old pacey Brazilian winger looks to get in behind defences and utilise his sprint speed to pressure defenders into mistakes with pressing and high work rate. Martinelli hasn’t featured much in recent weeks for the Gunners but Arsenal fans will hope the young starlet will play a big role. Saka and Martinelli could provide the firepower the Gunners require to get past Benfica come Thursday.
Benfica’s dangerman Pizzi could provide a headache for Gunners defenders in this clash. The 31-year-old Portuguese attacking midfielder is the joint top scorer in this year’s Europa League with the Benfica player having netted six times in six games.
Arsenal’s midfielders will have to ensure they marshall Pizzi for the whole 90 minutes and do not give him space in which he can create chances for his teammates.
How to watch
Due to current restrictions in the coronavirus pandemic and issues with travel for both teams, both legs of this game will be played behind closed doors at neutral venues. The first leg this Thursday takes place in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico. This game will however be available for fans to watch live on BT Sport with kick off set for 20:00.