What do I know about Benfica? Nothing other than they’re a Portuguese Premier League club sat 4th place in the table. They came runners up to Rangers in their Europa League group having won three and drawn three of their fixtures.
The last time the two clubs met was donkeys years ago and Arsenal didn’t win either fixture but history is irrelevant as far as tonight’s fixture is concerned. Benfica’s head coach is Jorge Jesus for a second time in his managerial career having first been there from 2009/10 – 2015, when he won three league titles and came runners up in two Europa League Cup Finals too, and again from 2020. Spells at Sporting CP, Al-Hilal and Flamengo came in between. The Flamengo fans didn’t like his appointment by all accounts, he was considered too old by them and the media. Even when they won, Jesus was seldom praised. Yes, of course that little snippet comes from Wikipedia. He won five trophies with the Brazilian club, winning 43 of the 57 games in charge. Not too shabby eh, but he only lasted the one season in Brazil before returning home.
A few familiar names appear in their squad. Jan Vertonghen, Adel Taarabt and Nicolas Otamendi. The rest of the squad is mainly made up of Brazilian and Portuguese players so flair and strength springs to my mind. Portuguese teams are renowned for being hard to beat, as are managers of the same nationality. However, if the League table in Portugual tells the real story, this season isn’t going particularly well for Benfica. The Premier League table certainly tells the real story of Arsenal’s season so far. Referee and VAR cockups aside that is.
Tonights fixture is of course being played at a neutral ground because of Covid restrictions so both clubs travel to Rome to play in Stadio Olimpico, the home ground of both Roma and Lazio. I didn’t know that.
The big question relating to Arsenal is, will Mikel Arteta continue with a younger team or will he now bring in more experienced players to give the team a better chance (on paper) of progressing in the competition? I don’t mean Willian by the way. Talking of the Brazilian, Mikel Srteta had this to say about him yesterday:
On if the criticism of Willian is unfair…
I don’t say it’s unfair because with Willy the expectation is really high in terms of the goals he can score. The assists he can create, you expect him to be in the starting lineup as well so it’s normal that people write things about him. We have to protect him, we have to support him as much as we can because he deserves it from the way he handles his profession and the way he is with us.
Barring Thomas Partey, Arteta has a fully fit squad to select from. Leno or Ryan? Does Pepe come back or will Ødegaard get the nod, Holding and Mari or Gabriel? Aubameyang or Martinelli? Will Balogun and Nelson be in the squad, and Azeez?
Cedric was alongside Mikel Arteta during the press conference after landing in Rome which would suggest he’s likely to start at left-back again which makes sense as Kieran Tierney has trained just the once. Maybe we’ll see the Scotsman get some minutes during the latter part of the match if the situation allows.
Mikel Arteta on Benfica’s strengths and weaknesses:
What I can say is that they’re a really competitive team, a really high-rhythm team. They have a really high press and they are dominant when you allow them to be. They have very aggressive attacking players too. When they have the space to attack and they are close to the final third, they are really dangerous. Their manager has a huge history in football and some of our players know him really well as well. There’s a big respect there and they’re going to be a difficult opponent.
We know what happened last year at the same stage of the competition so the best way to avoid a repeat of that disappointment it to get an away goal or two. The more the better obviously, and with a win.
See you in the comments.