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Talk about a Greek drama. Arsenal were heading out on away goals until their latest dynamic duo tore up the script in Athens.
For Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, read Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka these days.
Arsenal led through Aubameyang in a game that was switched from the Emirates to neutral ground because of Covid restrictions.
But Benfica turned the tables when Diogo Goncalves struck a free kick equaliser and Rafa Silva made it 2-1, with Dani Ceballos badly at fault for both goals.
At that point, the Portuguese side were through – but Kieran Tierney pulled one back before Aubameyang scored his second Saka-inspired goal of the night at the death.
Mikel Arteta’s men really needed this too as they are 11 points off fourth place in the Premier League.
Winning this competition is their best bet of qualifying for the Champions League – and that is still possible after this thriller sent them into the last 16.
Arteta described the first leg as a missed opportunity and then said this one was a cup final.
But his young side looked nervous – until Saka took matters into his own hands and set up the opener 21 minutes in.
He played a fabulous throughball for Aubameyang to run on to and chip Benfica keeper Helton Leite.
It was Saka who rode to the rescue by scoring the equaliser in the first game, and the 19-year-old once again game up trumps.
Since the start of last season, no other Arsenal player has had a hand in more than goals than Saka, who has three goals and eight assists in that time.
Later in the half Saka was furious when Emile Smith Rowe passed up a good opportunity to play him in on goal.
And Benfica were level when Ceballos made a terrible mistake and gave away a poor free kick just before half time.
Goncalves still had it all to do but he absolutely smashed it over the wall and into the top corner.
Aubameyang thought he had put Arsenal back in front when he poked home a pass from Martin Odegaard at the start of the second half.
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But he had just strayed offside before the finish and it was ruled out after a VAR review.
And after that a comedy of errors cost Arsenal dear. First, Ceballos tried a risky header back from a long punt upfield and misjudged it terribly.
Bernd Leno then panicked, rushing out into no-man’s land and then pulling out of a challenge to allow Silva the simplest of finishes.
Suddenly Arsenal needed two – but Tierney pulled one back with a tremendous finish after some good work from Willian, who had just come on as a sub.
The Gunners then had a let-off when Benfica sub Gabriel whistled a long-range effort narrowly past the post.
And then Tierney blocked another Gabriel shot, before suddenly, Aubameyang pounced on a superb cross from Saka to rescue it with three minutes to go.
- Arsenal FC
- Mikel Arteta
- Europa League
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