Hero Turns Villain But Arsenal Still Favourites to Scale Through

Bukayo Saka

Arsenal resumed Europa league action on Thursday night when we took on Benfica in the first leg of the last-32 that we qualified for by winning all matches in the previous stage. This was an away tie even though it was not played at the home ground of Benfica. 

It had to be taken to Rome because the new highly-transmissible variant of the coronavirus said to be present in Britain has earned English clubs a ban from some European countries.

For the encounter that ended in a draw, Mikel Arteta had to stick to the exact side he employed in the weekend's 4-2 triumph over Leeds United. This is not a regular practice; the last time we saw the same team used for consecutive games was in September 2018.

The way we began the match and handled it for the first 45 minutes was far from imperfection which is why the final result surely has raised some questions from supporters especially. Arsenal were in total control except that our fluency amounted to nothing for us. 

It looked like we had gotten the opener twenty minutes into the match but then that glorious chance missed by an unmarked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the far post is still something to worry about. Hector Bellerin whose effort provided this chance will wonder why it did not go in. 

This would easily had gone off the minds of many had we won but the reverse was the case and knowing what that act cost us, our captain took to Twitter after the match to send out an apology for his misplaced opportunities. The hattrick hero some days back has now become the villain. What a pity!

Dani Ceballos' block made sure we ended the half in a good position. A loose pass from Granit Xhaka got snatched by Grimaldo. He tried to shoot but was denied by our Spanish midfielder. Following that stalemate, we entered into the second half, conceding just moments after it started. The hosts were awarded a penalty for a handball by Emile Smith Rowe and Pizzi did the needful by tucking into the right post. That decision when analysed by a non-biased creature qualifies as greatly unfair. What could we do?

Good work from Cedric Soares and Martin Odegaard presented Bukayo Saka with the ball. Nigerian Starboy popped it in to earn us the equaliser which stood also as his first European goal for the season. It was a fast response that came in less than three minutes after we conceded. 

Auba fired wide again before being substituted but at the end of the day, our winning streak in the competition came to an end. Regardless, we head into the second leg of the encounter as the team with advantage going by the away goal we have.

The second leg, our home clash at a neutral venue, will be played at Olympiacos' Stadium in Greece exactly a week from today. Many punters will give Arsenal the edge to qualify to the next round.

We will take on Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium this Sunday, then head out for the continuation of our European battle. 

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