Bukayo Saka’s equaliser earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw in the first-leg of their Europa League last-32 clash with Benfica in Rome, with the Gunners missing several chances to snatch victory.
Skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of missing the best of the openings for Arsenal, the worst of which was an absolute sitter in an otherwise poor first half.
The game sprang into life after the break, however, with Emile Smith Rowe handling in the penalty area to concede a penalty, which the Europa League’s top goalscorer this season – Pizzi – converted to give his side a 55th minute lead.
That advantage lasted less than two minutes as an incisive move was finished off by Saka to level things up, but after Aubameyang again missed another glorious chance, the Gunners settled for a draw to take into the second leg.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts after missing another chance
Image credit: Getty Images
Mikel Arteta named the same starting XI that beat Leeds 4-2 at the weekend, but the Gunners struggled to find any rhythm early on.
Playing in Rome instead of Lisbon due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the designated home side were opened up late by a slick Arsenal move, one that Aubameyang, somehow, contrived not to finish off, with the goal at his mercy from six-yards out.
Arsenal started the second half well, but Smith Rowe’s handball, with the ball hitting his arm when raised above his head, giving Pizzi the chance to score his seventh goal of this season's competition.
A sublime pass from Martin Odegaard split the Benfica defence that resulted in the equaliser, with their still time for Aubameyang to pass up another chance for his side to take a lead into the second leg in Athens next week.
TALKING POINT - Aubameyang still way off his best
A first-ever Premier League hat-trick at the weekend was supposed to be the moment that at long last Aubameyang would hit top gear this season.
He had his swagger back, and a smile on his face. He has had off-field issues to deal with recently, so to put in a goal-laden display like his against Leeds really appeared to be a turning point.
But the jitters in front of goal returned once again in Rome, as Aubameyang could have helped himself to another hat-trick against Benfica. Back to the drawing board.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Dani Ceballos (Arsenal)
At times it seemed like the only player trying to inject some life into Arsenal was Dani Ceballos. He has improved so much in recent weeks, and given more game time he can really kick on between now and the end of the season.
Benfica: Leite 6, Verissimo, 6 Otamendi 7, Vertonghen 6, Goncalves 6, Taarabt 5, Weigl 5, Pizzi 6, Grimaldo 7, Waldschmidt 7, Nunez 6... Subs: Gilberto 6, Everton 6, Gabriel 6, Seferovic 6, Silva 7.
Arsenal: Leno 6, Bellerin 6, Luiz 7, Gabriel 6, Cedric 7, Ceballos 8, Xhaka 6, Saka 7, Odegaard 7, Smith Rowe 6, Aubameyang 4... Subs: Tierney 6, Willian N/A, Pepe 6, Elneny N/A, Martinelli 6.
18’ - WHAT A MISS! One of the worst misses you will see from the skipper! Bellerin put it on a plate for Aubameyang, who just had to slide the ball into the net from six yards out, but somehow Aubameyang slotted the ball wide!
52’ - CHANCE! Big opportunity for Saka as he latches onto Ceballos' flick, but drags his effort wide from a good position. He had done the hard work to make space for the shot.
53’ - PENALTY TO BENFICA! Handball given against Smith Rowe. VAR having a look.
55’- GGGGGGGOOOOOAAALLLLl!!!! Benfica 1-0 Arsenal. VAR says penalty, with Pizzi stepping up to score his sixth Europa League goal of the season with a calmly-taken penalty.
57’ - GGGGGOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!! Benfica 1-1 Arsenal. Immediate response from Arsenal as Saka levels. BUT WAIT! We have a VAR check for offside... GOAL STANDS! Wonderful pass from Odegaard to play in Cedric, who pulled it back for Saka to slot home. Super, incisive goal.
64’ - WIDE! Aubameyang is slotted in by Xhaka, but the skipper drags the strike wide. Good chance.
74’ - CHANCE! Aubameyang, again, with a great chance, but he fails to pull the trigger, cuts back inside, and is tackled. Had the goal at his mercy!
- Benfica remain unbeaten in each of their 26 UEFA Europa League matches at home (W20 D6) – this is at least 15 more home matches than any other team who is yet to lose a home game in the competition (Chelsea, 11).
- Pizzi’s opener from the penalty spot was Benfica’s 100th goal in the UEFA Europa League, one of just eight clubs to reach this total since the inaugural season of the competition back in 2009-10.
- Since the start of last season, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka (19y 166d) is the youngest Premier League player to have scored 10+ goals and made 10+ assists across all competitions.
- Arsenal (v Leeds and Benfica) named the same starting XI in consecutive matches for the first time in over two years, since doing so back in September 2018 against Cardiff (won 3-2) & Newcastle (won 2-1).
- Since the start of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League campaign, only Bruno Fernandes (10) has scored more goals in the competition than Benfica’s Pizzi (9).
- Pizzi is the first Portuguese player to score at least seven goals in a single UEFA European campaign for Benfica since Eusébio, who did so during the 1970/71 European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign (also 7).