The two sides played out a 1-1 stalemate in the first leg in Rome, with Bukayo Saka cancelling out Pizzi’s penalty in the second half.
Pep Guardiola recently claimed that his former protege Mikel Arteta would turn Arsenal into Premier League title contenders. However, if their performance against Manchester City is anything to go by, it will be a long time before that happens.
The Gunners had their moments but never really looked like troubling the runaway leaders, who opened the scoring inside the first 90 seconds through Raheem Sterling’s header and proceeded to shut up shop on Sunday afternoon at the Emirates, as Arsenal lost for the third time in four Premier League matches.
Despite a promising opening to 2021, Arteta’s men have now won just one of their last six matches in all competitions, although they could and probably should have taken a first-leg advantage home from Rome last week, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang once again guilty of leaving his shooting boots at home.
Arsenal’s perfect record in this season’s Europa League ended at the hands of a determined Benfica outfit, but the effervescent Saka at least managed to notch up a vital ‘away’ goal for his side after the tournament’s top scorer Pizzi broke the deadlock from 12 yards, and it will be interesting to see what approach Arteta takes for this match.
The Gunners would normally have a 60,000-strong Emirates crowd roaring them on for their home legs, but this tie will be played in an empty Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis due to coronavirus protocols, and Benfica will make the long journey intent on spoiling the Arsenal party.
Benfica’s recent form is nothing to write home about either, as the Portuguese giants have only won three of their last 11 in all competitions and a Primeira Liga title charge is seemingly out of the question.
Jorge Jesus’s men have managed to go their last six games unbeaten, but four of those have ended with the spoils shared – including each of their last three – and they played out a goalless stalemate with relegation-threatened Farense at the weekend after the first leg with Arsenal.
Jesus’s switch to a three-man central defence against the Gunners paid dividends at Stadio Olimpico, but it was Arsenal’s wastefulness in front of goal more than anything else that has given Benfica a fighting chance of advancing to the last 16 of the Europa League, which they last achieved in the 2018-19 season.
With Thursday’s game technically being Benfica’s ‘away’ leg, the importance of chalking up at least one goal against their English counterparts cannot be understated, but a Taca de Portugal victory over Estoril represents their only victory from their last six on the road.
The Portuguese side have only tasted defeat in three of their last 14 on unfamiliar territory, but with the Europa League representing Arsenal’s best chance to return to the pinnacle of club football for next season, Benfica’s rearguard must produce an inspired performance to keep their own hopes of silverware alive.