Arsenal netted six wins in its six matches in the 2020-2021 Europa League group stage, beating Switzerland’s Young Boys, Romania’s CFR Cluj, and Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia in the process. This, of course, means that it advances to the next stage of the competition: the round of 32. This time, in turn, its opponents will no longer be teams that are considered relatively easy to beat. On February 18, the Gunners will be up against Benfica, placed second in its group, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from this match.
A bit of history
The last time the two teams met on the turf was quite long ago: Benfica played Arsenal in the 1991-1992 season of the European Cup (now Champions League) Round of 16. The two matches played were close – after a 1-1 draw at home, the Gunners lost their away game 3-1, with the Portuguese club advancing to the next stage at the time.
This time, in turn, neither of the teams will have the advantage of their home turf, as both Portugal and the UK are “in the red” due to the pandemic. Thus, they will meet again after three decades on ‘neutral’ ground – first in Rome, then in Athens.
Last 5 matches
Benfica won just one of its last five matches – its only win this month was a 3-1 victory against Estoril Praia in the Taça de Portugal Two of its matches ended in draws (one of them goalless), and one ended with the team’s loss against Sporting CP.
Out of its last five matches, Arsenal won two (a 4-2 victory over Leeds and a 3-1 victory over Southampton), lost two (a 1-0 defeat from Aston Villa and a 2-1 loss from the Wolves), and one of them ended in a goalless draw (against Manchester United).
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has recently revealed that the return of Tierney and Partey to the team’s lineup is ‘unlikely’ ahead of the team’s matches against Benfica. Scottish left-back Kieran Tierney hasn’t played since the team’s win over Newcastle last month, recovering from a calf injury, while Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey suffered a hamstring injury during last weekend’s defeat suffered from Aston Villa which rules him out from the upcoming game.
On the Portuguese side, right-back André Almeida is still out due to the cruciate ligament rupture he suffered last October – he missed 29 games so far – and Benfica captain Jardel, who plays as a central defender, is also expected to miss the game due to thigh muscle strain he suffered about two weeks ago.
What the bookies are saying
Sports betting outlet Betway, well-known for all soccer betting enthusiasts, has its predictions ready for the upcoming match.
According to Betway’s predictors, the Gunners have a slightly better chance to win the first meeting of the two but the game will be exciting and the score close. The bookie expects both teams to score at least one goal, probably more. Betway doesn’t expect the match to end in a draw – they think it’s most likely that both teams will score and the Gunners will win.