Arsenal will lock horns with Benfica at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday evening hoping to pick up a win in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Last 32 tie. The Gunners managed to beat Leeds United by a 2-1 scoreline in the Premier League last weekend, which will keep them in high spirits going into this European clash in Italy. In contrast, the Portuguese giants were held to 1-1 draw away at Moreirense earlier this week, so they will be desperate to produce an improved showing versus the North London outfit.
Benfica boss Jorge Jesus is expected to opt for a 4-2-2-2 formation and could instruct his players to defend well and expose the opposition’s weaknesses on the counter. However, the Portuguese outfit cannot afford to play a high defensive line because both Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi lack the pace to make recovering runs at the back.
Mikel Arteta will probably set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and will ask his players to focus on dominating the ball and create some clear-cut goal-scoring chances for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top.
Andre Almeida and Gilberto are both significant concerns for this game because of injury. Jardel remains a long-term absentee for the Portuguese club.
Benfica Predicted XI
Vlachodimos; Goncalves, Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo; Silva, Taarabt, Weigl, Pizzi; Nunez, Seferovic
Both Thomas Partey (hamstring problem) and Kieran Tierney (lower leg injury) are unlikely to recover in time for this Europa League showdown in Italy. Otherwise, Arteta has no fresh injury concerns to cope with ahead of this game.
Arsenal Predicted XI
Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Cedric; Xhaka, Ceballos; Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe; Aubameyang
Adel Taarabt needs to have a good game if Benfica are to come out on top later this week. Both Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen will have to figure out a way to keep the Gunners attackers at bay in midweek.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will once again carry most of the goal-scoring workload for Arsenal. The defensive performance of David Luiz and Gabriel during the 90 minutes could be crucial in determining the fate of this clash.
The Gunners are the slight favourites to secure an away win at the Stadio Olimpico as they are priced at 13/10 by the bookmakers. The draw has been listed at 13/5 while Benfica are 9/5 underdogs to emerge victorious on Thursday night.
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