Welcome to SunSport’s live coverage of Benfica versus Arsenal in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League.
After swiping Leeds aside at the weekend, the Gunners switch their minds to continental competition, aiming to progress beyond the round in which they were eliminated last season.
In their way stand opponents formidable on their own patch – so it is perhaps just as well that this fixture is being played in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico.
Moved to a neutral venue because of the UK Government’s restrictions on travelling to red listed countries, the return leg will take place in Athens next week.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the star of the show on Sunday with his first premier league hat-trick for the club, but the revitalised Arsenal captain has found himself in hot water since after appearing to breach Covid-19 protocols by getting a tattoo.
However, the forward has travelled to Italy as part of Mikel Arteta’s squad, as has Kieran Tierney. The Scottish left-back has been one of Arsenal’s stand-out performers this season, but has missed the last six games with a leg injury.
Two-time Europa League runners-up, Benfica, were unbeaten as they qualified from Group D behind Rangers, but have been enduring a difficult spell domestically.
The Eagles are fourth in Portugal’s Primeira Liga – 13 points behind city rivals Sporting – and have won just two of their last eight league games; a frustrating run that immediately followed nine victories in their opening 11 matches.
Jorge Jesus is without right-backs Andre Almeida and Gilberto, but he does have the Europa League’s joint-top scorer in Pizzi at his disposal, as well as Nicolas Otamendi and former Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen.
We’ll have confirmation of tonight’s starting line-ups imminently with kick-off in Italy to come at 8pm.
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