Arsenal are through to the Europa League round of 16 after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late winner helped seal a thrilling 3-2 win against Benfica to progress 4-3 on aggregate.
The Gunners were the home side despite the match being played in Athens, and they had all the early possession as the Portuguese outfit looked nervous at the back and error-prone in the middle of the park.
And it was a brilliant ball from Bukayo Saka that cut up the Benfica backline after 20 minutes, with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang needing just one touch to dink the ball over Helton into the net.
Emotional Saka welcomed back to Arsenal with wall of supportive letters
The Gunners were coasting and almost doubled their lead through Saka, but minutes before half-time Benfica rattled their opponents and put the brakes on Arsenal’s momentum as Diogo Goncalves scored a wonderful free-kick to level the tie once more.
Arsenal's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) celebrates with teammates
Image credit: Getty Images
From then on, it was Benfica who looked the more dangerous side with the knowledge that a second away goal could put the game beyond their opponents.
And they scored that goal and gave themselves the lead when Dani Ceballos’ woeful header back to Bernd Leno was intercepted by Rafa Silva who gratefully rounded Leno to slot into an empty net.
With two goals needed, the tie looked beyond Arsenal but Kieran Tierney responded almost immediately with a rifled finish to level the match at 2-2.
The Gunners were relentless in their pursuit of a third goal that would put them through, and just as all hope looked lost, Saka produced another brilliant ball in for Aubameyang to head home at the back post to keep their season alive.
MAN OF THE MATCH – BUKAYO SAKA
Such a cool head for such a young player and put two brilliant assists on a plate for Aubameyang that the striker could hardly miss. A really mature performance from Arsenal’s brightest star.
TALKING POINT – ARSENAL KEEP SEASON ALIVE
Wow. By the skin of their teeth Arsenal have somehow salvaged hope this season and kept alive hopes of a spot in next season’s Champions League.
They were so sloppy at times tonight but on balance deserve to go through, mainly because there’s no way that a player of Bukayo Saka’s quality deserves to head out of any competition after a performance like that.
Arsenal are floundering in the Premier League but showed so much spirit to grind themselves through this one. A few like for like performances in England could help lift them up the table too.
Benfica: Leite 5, Verissimo 6, Otamendi 6, Vertonghen 5, Goncalves 7, Taarabt 5, Weigl 5, Silva 7, Grimaldo 6, Pizzi 6, Seferovic 5. Subs. Everton n/a, Gabriel 6, Nunez 5, Waldschmidt n/a, Tavares 5.
Arenal: Leno 5, Bellerin 6, Luiz 6, Gabriel 6, Tierney 7, Ceballos 2, Xhaka 6, Odegaard 6, Smith Rowe 5, Aubameyang 8, Saka 9. Subs. Lacazette 6, Chambers n/a, Elneny n/a, Partey 6, Willian n/a.
21’ - GOAL! ARSENAL 1 BENFICA 0 (Aubameyang, 21). Beautiful. Saka plays a brilliant reverse pass into Aubameyang who dinks the ball over Helton with his first touch. It's a goal of real quality and perfect timing.
42’- GOAL! ARSENAL 1 BENFICA 1 (Goncalves, 42'). What. A. Goal. Benfica are right back in this with the most brilliant free-kick by Goncalves. Just superb.
51’ - DISALLOWED GOAL! It's a carbon copy of his first and Aubameyang has the ball in the net again! BUT....the flag is up. And he does look perhaps a yard offside. VAR confirm the decision. Great finish though.
63’ - GOAL! ARSENAL 1 BENFICA 2 (Rafa, 63). What a calamity. Arsenal were finally getting back into this one but they've shot themselves in the foot once again. Helton lumps a long ball up top and Ceballos is at fault once again as his header back to Leno is intercepted by Rafa Silva who rounds the 'keeper and slots into an empty net.
67’ - GOAL! ARSENAL 2 BENFICA 2 (Tierney, 67). Arsenal are back in it! They've been all over Benfica since the restart and it's Tierney who rifles a brilliant effort into the corner from just inside the box. Mad game. Benfica are still going through but Arsenal just need one more now!
87’- GOAL! ARSENAL 3 BENFICA 2 (Aubameyang 87). They've done it! Arsenal have turned it around! Saka plays a brilliant ball into the back post and puts it on a plate for the captain to head in from three yards. Arsenal are going through...surely!? VAR is having a look...IT STANDS!
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