Arsenal take on Benfica in the Round of 32 clash in Rome. Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions across Europe, the match will be played on two different, neutral venues.
The first leg will be played in Stadio Olimpico, which is the home stadium of A.S. Roma, S.S. Lazio and Italy’s national team of football and rugby. Mikel Arteta has some tough decisions to make ahead of playing their “away” clash against the Portuguese side.
Goalkeeper: Bernd Leno
This will be one of the easiest decisions for the Arsenal manager. Leno has been one of the most important squad players since he joined the club and is expected to start against Jorge Jesus’ men.
Center-back: Gabriel Magalhaes
The Brazilian, we expect, will be the next in line who will be given the nod in the crucial Europa League clash. Even though the Brazilian struggled to find his feet after contracting coronavirus, he has been solid alongside David Luiz and Rob Holding in the past two games.
Center-Back: Rob Holding
Since the start of the 2020/21 campaign, only Bukayo Saka, Hector Bellerin and Bernd Leno have more Premier League minutes under their belt than Holding. Given that he didn’t feature for the majority of Arsenal’s win against Leeds United, he will be expected to play alongside Gabriel in Rome.
Despite Kieran Tierney having a full training session on Tuesday, it is a case of a match coming too soon for him. Featuring in two training sessions is hardly any good preparation for such a crucial match. Thus, he’s expected to miss the starting 11 and can be named on the bench by Arteta. And that means another start for Cedric on the left side of the defense.
Right-Back: Hector Bellerin
Arsenal are somewhat stretched in the full-back department, thus it would not come as a surprise to see Bellerin in the starting line-up. Bellerin’s starting place could depend on Tierney. If the Scotsman is allowed to feature, then the Spaniard might have to make his place on the bench given his under-par performances this season.
Central-Midfield: Granit Xhaka
Despite the fact that Arsenal have had a rollercoaster of a season already in the Premier League, one player whose place has hardly been in jeopardy is Granit Xhaka. The Swiss is highly regarded by Arteta and he will be trusting his “leader” against a strong Benfica team.
Central-Midfield: Dani Ceballos
Given that Thomas Partey is still not included, Ceballos will be the perfect replacement for him. In the last match against Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa praised the duo of Xhaka and Ceballos in controlling the game and not giving Leeds a chance to break. Thus, his inclusion would make complete sense.
Attacking Midfield: Emile Smith Rowe
This selection will not be a surprise at all. Since his breakthrough in December, the Englishman has been in superb form, helping the Gunners in reducing the gap between them and the top four significantly. He again shone in the 4-2 win over Leeds United on Sunday and there is no reason for Arteta to bench him in Stadio Olimpico.
Right-Wing: Bukayo Saka
Reliance on such a young player is generally not considered good. But the pressures that come with playing for a team like Arsenal has not bothered the 19-year-old in being one of the most consistent performers. With Saka’s presence on the right, Alex Grimaldo (Benfica’s left-back), can expect a tough night.
Left-Wing: Nicolas Pepe
The Ivorian was completely rested on Sunday night even though he was on a good run-of-form before Leeds visited the Emirates. Mikel Arteta might have been looking at resting Pepe before the blockbuster clash. And after having done so, he can expect the 25-year-old to fire all cylinders against Benfica.
Center-Forward: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang
The 31-year-old, after his hat-trick at the weekend, is undroppable. The Gabon international could have easily scored five goals on the night, in what proved to be a dominant display by Arsenal.
Article by Yash Bisht.
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