Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores twice as Arsenal complete comeback against Benfica

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Sam Dean
·17 min read
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores for Arsenal - GETTY IMAGES
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores for Arsenal - GETTY IMAGES
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With the clock ticking down and their season on the brink of collapse, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked around at their faltering team-mates and decided to take matters into their own hands.

Arsenal needed rescuing in this wild Europa League tie, having played themselves into the most perilous of positions, and there was an inevitably to the fact that Saka, the teenager supreme, and Aubameyang, the leader of this team, were the players who seized the opportunity.

Just as they had in the first half, Saka and Aubameyang combined to rip apart the entire Benfica defence in one move. Saka to Aubemeyang, Aubameyang to goal: repeat as required.

How crucial might their late intervention turn out to be? Mikel Arteta’s side were three minutes from despair and in desperate need of a hero when all seemed lost in Greece. They had gift-wrapped three goals for Benfica over the course of this tie and, typically of their stuttering season, looked set to go out on away goals in a home leg that was taking place in Athens.

Such indignity would have been fodder for the history books, not to mention the entire fanbase of Tottenham Hotspur. And Dani Ceballos would have been the villain of the story for Arsenal, having been the primary culprit for both of Benfica’s goals on the night.

Instead it became all about Saka and Aubameyang again, albeit with a crucial helping hand from Kieran Tierney, the scorer of their second. At this stage of the competition last season, Aubameyang missed a huge opportunity in the final moments as they were knocked out by Olympiacos. It felt almost poetic that, this time around, he made no mistake.

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“That was the first image that came through my mind when he scored,” said Arteta. “This is the beautiful thing about football. If you keep going you always have the chance to put it right.

“I completely trust Auba. You know when he has chances he is going to score goals. The last few days after the game in Rome, where he missed three or four opportunities, he needed to react. The way he reacted is being upset and trying to be better, and not just feeling sad for himself. I am really pleased with what he has done.”

The overwhelming emotion for Arsenal would have been relief, although it was also a night that will provide Arteta’s players with hope for the future. They found a way to get the job done, despite making it far harder than it should have been, and such victories can prove transformative for a team’s collective psyche. “More nights like this please,” tweeted Saka.

Of course, Arsenal will need to improve if they are to stand any chance of going all the way. They cannot make the mistakes they made here and expect to progress against better opposition, with Ceballos fortunate that his dreadful backwards header did not cost Arsenal the tie.

Rafa Silva of Benfica Lissabon scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Arsenal FC and SL Benfica  - Getty Images
Rafa Silva of Benfica Lissabon scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Arsenal FC and SL Benfica - Getty Images

The midfielder had also conceded the free-kick that led to Benfica’s first goal of the night, a wonderful effort from Diogo Goncalves. At that stage Arsenal were in control of the match, with Aubameyang dinking them into the lead from Saka’s glorious through ball.

Arsenal were pushing for more in the second half when a lumped clearance came down from the Greek sky and landed on the head of Ceballos. Instead of knocking it forward, the Spaniard tried to flick it back to his goalkeeper. The idea was bad, and the execution was even worse. Rafa Silva pounced for Benfica, rounding Bernd Leno and scoring the Portuguese side’s second of the night.

On came Thomas Partey and Willian, two summer signings who simply had to prove their worth. Willian did so by finding Tierney in the box, where the Scotsman unleashed a fierce effort through the collection of Benfica bodies and into the corner.

Arsenal still needed one more, and they were getting increasingly desperate. Well, all except Saka. The teenager supreme cut inside from the right wing, looked up, and put his cross onto the forehead of Aubameyang with just three minutes remaining. It was some way to win it, and some way to keep Arsenal’s season alive.

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07:47 PM

FULL TIME

Arsenal are through! They really tried very hard to make it as difficult as possible but regardless, they've beaten a tricky opponent.

07:46 PM

90 mins+3 - Arsenal 3 Benfica 2

Benfica have the ball in the final third and are looking for a way to get it in the box. Arsenal clearing their lines. Tavares gets it on the edge of the area, beats a man, chips into the area and BENFICA MUST SCORE! OFF THE POST! Oh my god that was close. The offside flag was up anyway. Great game.

07:43 PM

90 mins - Arsenal 3 Benfica 2

Willian hasn't offered much since coming on but the Benfica manager will be furious with his last sub. Tavares just doesn't seem locked into the game, he needed to be way more aggressive there against Saka, regardless of skill.

More substitutions incoming. Waldschmidt comes on for Benfica.

Saka is replaced by Chambers and Elneny is on for Odegaard.

07:40 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!

BUT THERE IT IS! AUBAMEYANG SCORES!

Arsenal 3 Benfica 2

What a turnaround! Saka creates this all on his own, it's an incredible assist. Stepovers on the wing against the Benfica substitute Tavares, who doesn't do near enough, and lifts the ball to the back post. Aubameyang cannot miss.

07:38 PM

85 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

Yeh. So, Benfica have been the better team by miles since Arsenal made those substitutions. And I've forgotten that you can make more than three subsitutions in the Europa League. Tavares replaces Grimaldo.

07:34 PM

82 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

I'm not sure Arteta's thought his last substitution entirely through. Lacazette comes on for Bellerin, so Saka is now at right back and then a right winger when Arsenal have the ball, and Aubameyang has gone wide left. There's a heap of space in midfield that Benfica are using to keep possession.

07:30 PM

79 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

Mistake by the Benfica goalkeeper! Saka has the ball punted straight to him but can't get a shot away before he's tackled. He eventually tricks his way into the area but shoots with power wide of the near post.

07:29 PM

76 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

Benfica are just waiting on Arsenal mistakes to pounce... and they're getting a few chances to do that. Another silly error at the back and it looks like Benfica can get in. Leno is quicker off his line this time and wins the battle.

07:27 PM

73 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

Gabriel, the Benfica one, strides forwards and smashes a shot juuuuust wide of the post - Leno looked beaten too. Luiz guilty of not heading a ball away and trying to play out.

07:23 PM

70 mins - Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

Remember when the Europa League was just that rubbish version of the real European trophy? This is great fun. Arsenal playing with a bit more zip now than earlier.

07:20 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!

Of course it's Tierney! Great goal! He's fired up and tries to rev his teammates up too.

Arsenal 2 Benfica 2

The first touch sets up the second inside the box and he catches Everton completely off balance with the shift, drilling a shot low into the corner to equalise.

07:18 PM

66 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 2

Arsenal step up the attacking intent but Benfica can drop deep and hit them on the counter now. It's absolutely perfect for how they want to play the game.

07:16 PM

64 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 2

Ceballos has been at fault for both Arsenal goals tonight. Really poor mistakes, pretty basic. And he wants to break into the Real Madrid first XI?

Partey and Willian come on for Smith Rowe and Ceballos, unsurprisingly.

07:14 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!

Oh no! Ceballos has just goosed this entire thing!

Arsenal 1 Benfica 2

A long pung from the goalie, Ceballos has no situational awareness and heads back towards his goalie, who rushes off his line to clear and is late. Rafa Silva goes round him and scores! Arsenal have to score twice now!

07:13 PM

61 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

Aubameyang wants a penalty as he gets a little shove in the back while attacking a cross at the back post. Neither the referee or the virtual one care.

07:12 PM

59 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

This is a big call by the Benfica manager. He's made three substitutions before the hour, with Gabriel, Everton and Darwin on for Taarabt, Pizzi and Seferovic. No messing around now!

07:08 PM

56 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

Benfica are squeezing up with a high line (of five defenders!) but Arsenal can't quite figure out how to get a ball over the top or through it to release Aubameyang. Except for earlier, obviously. Saka has started taking up more central positions too as more of a forward three with Odegaard pushed high as well.

07:05 PM

53 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

Benfica seem to be finding new ways to get at Arsenal now, the front three in the 3-4-1-2 staying a little closer together. I think.

07:03 PM

Offside

Var confirms that Aubeyang was juuuuuuust offside. That's ridiculously tight, one of those 5cm decisions.

07:03 PM

GOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAA ---- offside?

Aubameyang is threaded in behind the defence and finishes superbly again... but the flag is up. Will this count? Big moment here.

06:57 PM

KICK OFF 2

We're back. Arsenal were the better team in that first half, they just need to keep that same sort of attacking possession while ensuring they don't let their concentration drop now.

06:50 PM

That free-kick

Look at this. It's unreal.

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Ceballos has just been dug out by Karen Carney on BT Sport, who has pointed out what you just cannot dangle a leg out in those areas outside the 18-yard-box when trying to tackle.

06:42 PM

HALF TIME

A decent half there. Arsenal in control but that free-kick has changed everything. The away goal is cancelled out and now all it will take is one error or piece of magic for Benfica to have a massive lead.

06:40 PM

45 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

That's the best thing Benfica have done all game. They've offered almost nothing else except the Vergonghen header from another set piece.

06:38 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL

WHAT A HIT! Benfica equalise!!!

Arsenal 1 Benfica 1

That is exceptional. A free-kick from 25 yards hit by Concalves with power, curl and perfect placement up and over the wall and into the top corner.

06:37 PM

43 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

What a play by Ceballos. Brilliant. Arsenal pass pass pass their way up the pitch, Tierney makes an overlapping run and it seems certain Ceballos will chip it wide to him, but instead takes a sneaky extra touch towards the defender before sliding Saka in. He's just offside but has his shot saved anyway.

06:35 PM

40 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

The fake crowd noise gives Tierney an appropriate level of applause for spotting a semi-dangerous situation that he had a 70/30 advantage on and slid in to boot the ball up the other end up of the pitch. Good to see they've got a soundboard ready for every eventuality in a game.

06:33 PM

37 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Arsenal doing well to keep Benfica far from goal at the moment. They're pressing high without doing it at an exhausting intensity, just blocking spaces and forcing errors.

06:29 PM

34 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Vertonghen turns up in the area to head at goal from a free-kick wide right... but heads over. He managed to beat both Luiz and Tierney to the ball there.

06:27 PM

31 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Benfica trying to push up now and create something but Arsenal drop back accordingly and block off their forward options.

06:26 PM

28 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Arsenal look really good here. Patient, calm possession. Lots of movement.

06:19 PM

25 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Benfica look all shaky now. Arsenal causing problems on both wings, breaking quickly, finding gaps. Aubameyang almost profits from some nervous defending inside the box.

06:17 PM

22 mins - Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

The goal stands!

06:16 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL

That is stunning. What a beautiful team goal by Arsenal, finished brilliantly by Aubameyang.

Arsenal 1 Benfica 0

Arsenal build on the right, Saka threads a reverse ball into Aubameyang, who beats the offside trap and just dinks the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net. That's superb. Var are having a little look for offside.

06:15 PM

19 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Xhaka is dropping between the Arsenal centre-backs when they build play to form a back three, which is clever and sensible, since Benfica are pressing them with a forward two. Three v two is clearly a numerical advantage.

06:11 PM

16 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

I absolutely love that Tierney has maintained his 'no messing about' mentality since joining from Celtic. In my opinion players should do everything they can to avoid clearing the ball, even when under pressure and especially when building from the back, but now and again you need to get rid. Tierney's read of danger situations is exceptional.

06:07 PM

13 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Arsenal defending really well. Benfica's wide players are their wing-backs and Arsenal are crowding that space to stop them progressing play. They have good players though so are still able to get up the pitch but Arsenal equal to everything off the ball.

06:04 PM

10 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Aubameyang chases a long ball into space on the left, faces up to the defender, does a stepover to win the space for a shot... and curls it into the goalie.

Benfica don't look settled. Arsenal the much better team so far.

06:02 PM

7 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Quite an aggressive start from Benfica. They're letting Arsenal players know that they're there, to use a cliche, by snapping onto them quickly and tackling hard. Arsenal haven't quite find their rhythm yet.

Tierney has started well though and takes an amazing first touch to push the ball past his marker and sprint up the wing after a high pass is sent his way. That is incredible technique. The cross ends up with the goalie though.

06:00 PM

4 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Adel Taarabt - yes, that one - goes in with a late, high challenge on Gabriel and catches him on the roof of his foot. That will have really hurt and the defender has felt it... earning Taarabt a deserved yellow card.

05:56 PM

1 mins - Arsenal 0 Benfica 0

Arsenal get the game started and the shapes are obvious early on. Benfica in a 5-3-2, Arsenal in a 4-2-3-1 with Smith Rowe on the left and Odegaard through the middle.

05:55 PM

KICK OFF

Here we go!

05:51 PM

Here come the players

They're in the tunnel, socially distanced of course, and almost ready to get the game started.

05:36 PM

Neutral venue

You may have heard of this thing called coronavirus which has been in the news recently. Anyway, because of it this game is being played in the neutral venue of Greece, specifically Athens in the Olympiakos stadium. That's a nice quick journey back to London for Arteta and his team tonight. Just the four hour flight.

05:22 PM

Thierry Henry coming back to London

Here's some news for Arsenal fans, Thierry Henry is coming back to England. It's not to take up a job as a manager though, he's just had enough of being unable to see his children due to travel restrictions.

Sam Dean has this:

Thierry Henry has stepped down as CF Montreal head coach for family reasons, saying the separation from his family has proved to be “too big of a strain” during the pandemic.

Henry said travel restrictions have meant that he has been unable to see his children over the last year. He took over at the Major League Soccer side in November 2019, a few months before the start of the pandemic.

Henry had been considered for the Bournemouth job before the Championship side decided to appoint Jonathan Woodgate until the end of the season.

"It is with a heavy heart that I'm writing this message,” Henry said. “The last year has been an extremely difficult one for me personally.

"Due to the worldwide pandemic, I was unable to see my children. Unfortunately due to the ongoing restrictions and the fact that we will have to relocate to the US again for several months (at least) will be no different. The separation is too big of a strain for me and my kids.

"Therefore, it is with much sadness that I must take the decision to return to London and leave CF Montreal. I would like to thank the fans, players and all the staff of this club that have made me feel so welcome."

05:05 PM

Starting lineups

The teams have been announced and this is what they look like:

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04:27 PM

Arsenal vs Benfica

It's Arsenal vs Benfica in the Europa League and this is liveblog for it. Your question was: what is this webpage, wasn't it? Well you've found the answer baby. Tonight's game is the return leg of a first match which ended 1-1, giving Arsenal a crucial away goal, something that could prove the decisive factor in a match the manager wants to win.

Mikel Arteta spoke to the press this week about the game and had this to say on how important the Europa League is to Arsenal:

"Huge, because the club has to be represented in Europe, that’s 100 per cent. And ideally obviously in the Champions League. The thing is that the competition in this league now it’s so big that a few teams who took this for granted for many, many years it’s not the case anymore.

"So now the Europa League becomes a huge competition. If you see how the competition has evolved in the last four or five years with the teams involved, you will say that it’s another Champions League competition even if people doesn’t treat it that way. For us it’s vital. We want to carry on playing in the competition. It’s a trophy and we’re gonna go for it.

"I think it’s impossible to convince [the fans] that the Europa League is the Champions League because it’s not and the history of this club is about being successful and winning the Premier League and winning the Champions League.

"But knowing the past and the difficulty we’ve been through in the last few years this becomes a really important competition for us. We all start to realise, maybe it’s still too early, but if we manage to do something in this competition, we are going to be happy about it definitely. We try to convince them with the performances and reaching the levels that we want."

Kick off is 5:55pm with BT Sport showing the game on TV. Live updates will take place here throughout the match.