Football Features

“He is a Champions League level player” – Winners and Losers as Aubameyang brace helps Arteta save face

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:18, 25 February 2021 | Updated: 2:20, 29 November 2022

In a comical night of football Arsenal beat Benfica 3-2 in the Europa League.

The win takes the Gunners through to the round of 16. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Bukayo Saka

Isn’t it absolutely mad that Arsenal’s best attacking player isn’t their goalscroring captain but instead their teenage winger who was a left-back substitute at the start of last season after breaking through in the Europa League under Unai Emery.

Arsenal were not good against Benfica. Perhaps better than their Portuguese “visitors” but definitely nowhere near the level Mikel Arteta will want them to be at. Yet they are through to the round of 16, and why? Because of Bukayo Saka.

Other players too, obviously, but it was Saka’s gorgeous through-ball that set the stage for Arsenal’s opening goal and his incredible back-post cross in the 87th minute that helped win the day for the misfiring Gunners after they had seemingly handed Benfica victory.

Saka has now made 8 assists in the Europa League since the start of last season, that’s more than any other player. We’re hesitant to say he’s too good for this level but come on he clearly is too good for this level. Bukayo Saka is a Champions League level player; and Arsenal need to win the Europa League so he can strut his stuff on the big stage.

Loser: Dani Ceballos

For a while there it looked like Arsenal had completely Arsenal’d this game up. A simple Benfica long-ball saw Dani Ceballos’ feeble clearance attempt only knock the ball back into the path of Rafa Silva. The Portuguese showed no hesitation in rounding Bernd Leno and tapping home a second away goal that at the time left Arsenal needing two goals to qualify.

Now, Arsenal got those two goals so Dani Ceballos is a lucky, lucky man. But his error still stands out and will no doubt introduce questions about the midfielder for Mikel Arteta now that Thomas Partey is fit again and Granit Xhaka is solid as ever.

Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Remember when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t buy a goal? When he looked about as dangerous as a rotten apple core? Yeah, that was weird. Anyway he’s back in some kind of business now and he’s made it five goals in his last four games tonight as he slapped Benfica at the crucial moments.

Aubameyang made a delightful run in behind defence to collect Saka’s ball and then finished oh so deftly. And then at the end he arrived to nod home a Saka cross and give Arsenal the win. The mark of great goalscorers is showing up when their team needs them most and that’s what Aubameyang did today.

Winner: Kieran Tierney

Isn’t it absolutely mad that Arsenal’s best player is their left-back? Yeah. Anyway. He is. Kieran Tierney had high potential to become a meme player due to his antics and short-sleeve obsession but he’s one of the many players proving that you can be amusing and awesome.

Tierney is just relentless. Arsenal gave him no help but he was determined to produce something. He created the joint-most chances on the night (2) and sent in a whopping 13 crosses trying to create pressure. In the end he took matters into his own hands and with Arsenal 1-2 down he stepped up and drilled home a gorgeous effort to equalise and give them hope of progression.

Winner: Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta has endured a strange spell in charge of Arsenal. It’s clear he has a talent for improving players and coaching a system the issue is just what exactly is that system? How do Arsenal play? It’s not always clear and certainly was not against Benfica.

But his players stepped up and bailed him out, so Arteta wins in the game and in our list, because now the Gunners are through to the next round and the Spaniard will be hoping to kickstart his side between now and the round of 16 in order to make a real run at the Europa League so they can get themselves back into the Champions League next season.

Loser: Banter

Let’s be honest, by far the funniest possible result would have been Arsenal getting eliminated from the Europa League on away goals despite having never played a game at home or away. It would have been an injustice (surely they could have scrapped that rule for these ties) but it would have been absolutely hysterical and so very “Arsenal.”

But now those jokes will have to stay filed in drafts because whatever else is wrong with them the Gunners have two or three genuinely top-class players who are able to drag them to glory and victory. Tonight Saka, Tierney and Aubameyang saved Arsenal from weeks and weeks of incessant banter.