Football Features

“A strange inversion of the expected” – Aubameyang shanks one as Arsenal flatter to deceive in away draw to Benfica

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:10, 18 February 2021 | Updated: 19:49, 10 September 2021

In a frustrating night of football, Arsenal drew 1-1 away to Benfica in the Europa League.

The Gunners were the better side but somehow never really seemed able to press home that advantage.

It’s obviously easy to laugh at Arsenal and failing to follow up their impressive win against Leeds with a victory can be read as a failure especially given they came into the Leeds game winless in three.

But the result against Benfica is not a bad one. Remember these ties are two-legged affairs and Arsenal come away from this with a draw and an away goal, which is always useful. That means a 0-0 draw in the second-leg, and truly the Lions showed no ability to really break Arsenal down in this game tonight, will see them qualify.

Yes the second-leg will be in Greece, not North London, but the point still remains that Arsenal hold all the cards here. Benfica failed to create any major chances beyond the penalty which was a gift from a handball rule that makes no sense. They failed to even win their home game and they conceded an away goal. The result definitely favours Arsenal.

The performance, however?

Again you have to take everything in the context that a 1-1 draw away from home in Europe is a good result but Arsenal… weren’t great. They weren’t bad, and produced a couple of really scintillating attacks; but it really was just a couple.

The delicious attack to gift Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a golden chance that he inexplicably spurned (you scored three at the weekend, my dude, where’s your confidence?) and then the move for the goal where Martin Odegaard threaded the ball behind the Benfica back-line straight to the overlapping Cedric who squared for the brilliant Bukayo Saka to finish.

A very special goal, for sure. And the way it came almost instantly after Benfica had taken the lead showed some impressive mental resilience; but the way that Arsenal then failed to build from that and go on to score two, three, four goals was criminal.

Yes Benfica were an organised side who have the best defensive record in Portugal (just 10 goals conceded in 19 games) but they conceded nine goals in six group stage games, including five in two matches against Rangers. And Arsenal are better than Rangers, right?

It’s such a strange inversion of the expected, where Arsenal have picked up a big result in a knockout tie despite playing poorly. And rest assured that is what happened here; this was not like the FA Cup run where Arsenal were defensive by-design, this was just a misshapen Arsenal who didn’t have the wherewithal to really push down on an obviously inferior opponent.

Maybe the Leeds win was a false dawn, and unless they’re firing their shots at Islan Meslier, Arsenal don’t actually have the firepower to press home the advantage their football gives them. Martin Odegaard is getting better every game, yet things are still not really fluid. Countless times Arsenal ignored the Norwegian in absolutely miles of space, maybe they’ve forgotten how to play with a creative attacking midfielder? Either way, they need to start linking with their no. 11 because s the goal showed, he’s the guy to unlock defences.

Still, whatever about the performance, the result was good. So as long as Arsenal press home their advantage in the second-leg, all will be well. But Mikel Arteta will be wary that the thin margins Arsenal are playing on right now means that any slip-up next week could be fatal to their Europa League ambitions.