Arsenal V Benfica Preview/ Lineup: Six Predicted Changes

Rome has been sacked seven times in its long and colourful history: The Gauls, The Visigoths, The Vandals, The Ostrogoths, The Normans, The Holy Roman Empire and The Nazis all conquered and humbled the Eternal city. Tomorrow the Gunners may well feel like giving the famous city their eighths sacking but that would be very rude as we have been invited as guests this time. It is all very bizarre, but Arsenal are playing Benfica away in Rome tomorrow.

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It would have been nice enough to have gone to the game in Lisbon – one of the finest cities in Europe – but Rome would have been even better. Unfortunately, supporters will have to do with armchair enjoyment once again. Benfica are fourth in the Primeira Liga at the moment, which they actually won a whopping 37 times in their 117 year old history. They have also two Europa Cups to their name (1961 and 1962) and are one of the famous Portuguese teams everyone has heard of. The victory in 1962, 5-3 and played in Amsterdam, came against mighty Real Madrid. This were the teams back then; it is before my time but there are some famous names on this team sheet!

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There is no doubt that they will give us a game, and it would not surprise me if they allow us little space by sitting back when we we are attacking and pushing up high when we are playing out of the back. Nothing new for us of course but the Portuguese are born to play on the counter and we have to be very careful for the whole ninety+ minutes. This is our official away game – our home game will be in Athens next week – so we need to focus on getting at least one away goal. Arsenal need to attack but also control the game and not walk into the typical Portuguese trap of sucking us in and then pouncing on the counter. Our fellow blogger LE GALL did a fab post on our opponent which is a must read if you want to know what the boys will be facing against the As Águias tomorrow:

An In-depth Analysis of Benfica, Arsenal’s next Europa League Opponent – Bergkampesque

So who should play? It is hard to predict Arteta’s lineup as he will rest a few players for Sunday’s key game against Man City, and he has of course the squad to do so. Tierney has travelled and trained but I would imagine this is still a game (or two) too early for him. Partey stayed home and he will be missed. Other than that all players are available as far as I can see, and there are a few I reckon will get a start tomorrow: Pepe, Willian, Martinelli, Laca, Elneny and Holding are all likely to play. The full backs are likely to be Bels and Soares again, and I would imagine that Leno will start and not Ryan.

This is my predicted/preferred line-up:

Obviously, this is subject to fitness and I am also expecting this team to get re-energized around the 65th minute with the likes of ESR, Ceballos, Auba, Odegaard and SuperSaka. But hopefully by then the team are in the lead already. I can see also see Arteta giving starts again to any of these players but think he will be more inclined to use his experienced players in the first instance. The likes of Willian, Pepe and also Martinelli have something to prove and I reckon they will be hungry to do so.

Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners!!

By TotalArsenal.

29 thoughts on “Arsenal V Benfica Preview/ Lineup: Six Predicted Changes

  • Remind me, is it 5 subs for this evenings game, I’m pretty sure it is and that allows some serious rotation that Arteta can utilise to hopefully get a positive result and save some legs for Man City…

    Nice post Total, I’m not sure that the Germans did sack Rome because didn’t the Italians change sides in 1944 and by then the Germans were in retreat.

  • TA has Martinelli played in 10 role earlier?. But he should play. Iam realy scared that he may become disillusioned. Anyways any team that we put up should be able to a positive result tonight. Let’s see which Arsenal will turn up today.

  • Really nice preview TA.
    I expect Arteta to take this competition most seriously of all, and to put out what he thinks of as his best lineup. I don’t think that includes Martinelli, but I hope it does.
    I do expect Lacazette for his scrappy talents, and Pepe maybe, since he’s been tracking back so well lately. A big plus in important games. Maybe this was the reason Holding was rested against Leeds.

  • Madhu, I think there three attacking mids, or nr10s if you want, and I think Martinelli can play in one of those. I am not sure he is 100% fit, but if he is then I expect him to start.

  • Great preview, GN5, and a highly probable line-up, TA.
    Agreeing with Madhu I expect a different order of the attackers (LW: Martinelli, AM:Willian, RW: Pepe, assuming neither ESR nor Odegaard will start).
    And the only player change I anticipate is Mari coming back to re-establish his short-lived but effective partnership with Holding, while leaving the PL places for Gabriel and Luiz to keep.
    I don’t want to underestimate Benfica (unlike our group stage opponents, whom I didn’t want to insult, but evaluated them below Championship level), but seeing the upcoming run of games maybe Xhaka could get a pass leaving the midfield to Ceballos and Elneny…

  • The £1bn lesson Arsenal can learn from transfer masters Benfica
    Arsenal Correspondent Charles Watts

    There is no club in world football that has perfected the art of selling better than Benfica.

    Over the past 10 years, the Portuguese giants have sold 393 players and brought in a fraction short of £1 billion ($1.4bn) in transfer fees. In that time, no team has generated more.

    During that period they have amassed a transfer profit of £541m ($750m) and have still managed to lift the Portuguese title in five of the last seven seasons.

    The conveyor belt of talent throughout the past decade has been relentless, from academy products such as Joao Felix and Bernando Silva, to carefully scouted additions like Ederson and Angel Di Maria.

    Should they have all stayed together, Benfica would have had a potential Champions League-winning side on their hands, but the huge financial clout of clubs outside of Portugal made that prospect all but impossible.

    Those in the corridors of power at Estadio da Luz understand that only too well, so the club works to a clear model. Find the best young talent there is, nurture and develop them and, when the time is right, sell them to the highest bidder and start the process all over again.

    It is a model that has proved to be a massive success story and one that shows little sign of slowing up any time yet.

    “At a certain point it’s not easy to compete with some of the other clubs from Europe,” Benfica legend Nuno Gomes explains during an exclusive interview with Goal ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Arsenal.

    “You have to sell because those big teams, with the finances they have and the offers they make to the players, make it very difficult for Benfica to compete with.

    “Also, it’s crucial to the model of Benfica. If you look at some of the players who have left in the past years, it’s true that you could have a team that maybe would have been fighting for the Champions League.

    “But the fans I think understand the situation. Portuguese teams will always have to sell. It always comes to a point when you can’t refuse certain offers.”

  • Try again…

    Gomes had two successful spells with Benfica as a player, scoring more than 100 goals while helping them to two league titles along the way

    After retiring he spent three years working as general manger of the club’s highly-respected academy from 2015-2018, so he knows only too well the model that has been put in place to ensure Benfica continue to compete and maintain its position as Portugal’s most successful club.

    “When the academy was built, the main goal was to have excellent conditions in order to develop players to feed the first-team,” he says.

    “But of course it is not enough to have seven or eight pitches with very good infrastructure if you don’t have veery good recruitment resources also. So Benfica has improved a lot in its recruitment skills and scouting department.

    “They start a model to find talent in early ages and then have very good coaches in order to develop those talents and give them conditions to grow and make it to the first team.

    “So it’s a combination between good coaches, good recruitment and scouting and all the people that work within the academy that treat the young players as their own family.”

    Teams across Europe are now benefitting from the success story that is the ‘Benfica Campus’, the club’s state of the art youth training centre that received the Globe Soccer Award of Best Academy of the Year in 2015 and 2019.

    Manchester City currently have Bernado Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo leading their charge towards another Premier League title, while Joao Felix – whom Atletico Madrid signed for £113m ($157) in 2019 – has scored nine goals in 25 appearances for the Liga leaders this season.

    There is Victor Lindelof at Manchester United, Goncalo Guedes at Valencia, Danilo Pereira at Paris Saint-Germain and Renato Sanches, who is now impressing for Lille having previously spent time at Bayern Munich.

    “Benfica scout for talent worldwide, but of course the main principal is home grown because you can’t have players from abroad until they turn 16,” said Gomes.

    “So the main focus is in Portugal and in the early ages. Players of seven, eight and nine who can develop and eventually make it to the first-team.”

    There are some similarities between Benfica and Arsenal, especially when it comes to the focus and investment that has gone into the club’s academies during the past decade.

    Just like their opponents on Thursday night, Arsenal have committed over £50m ($69m) during the past decade in improving the facilities at their Hale End academy and the club are now seeing the benefit of that, with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe starring in the first-team under Mikel Arteta on a weekly basis.

    But while Benfica have also excelled in selling and generating profit in recent years, Arsenal have failed miserably.

    During the past decade the Gunners have amassed just £385m ($533m) in transfer sales, while spending £810m ($1.1bn) in the process. When you are a club which operates to a self sustainable model, that is far from ideal – especially without Champions League finances to rely on.

    Arsenal can learn a lot from Benfica when it comes to selling at the right time. It is an area where the Gunners have effectively poured money down the drain in recent years.

    Since 2012, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Sokratis, Santi Cazorla and Shkodran Mustafi were signed for more than £140m ($194m), yet all left without Arsenal receiving a penny – although Henrikh Mkhitaryan did at least arrive as part of the swap deal that took Sanchez to Manchester United.

    Wojciech Szczesny, a fully-established international, was sold to Juventus for just £10m ($13.9m) at the age of 27, while a series of events saw Arsenal lose the immensely talented Serge Gnabry for just £5m ($6.9m).

    The highest transfer fee Arsenal have ever received for a player was the £35m ($48.5m) Liverpool spent to take Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Anfield in 2017.

    Alex Iwobi’s move to Everton – which could eventually bring Arsenal £34m ($47.1m) if add-ons are met – was perhaps a sign that things are improving in north London, with the fee the largest the Gunners have amassed from a player they have developed from Hale End.

    As Benfica have shown, money brought in from selling academy products can be hugely important, and it will be interesting to see what sort of figures Arsenal can secure in the summer should they decide to part ways with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson.

    With finances extremely limited due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, money received for players deemed surplus to requirements will be key to the transfer budget that is eventually handed to Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu at the end of the season.

    “It’s crucial for a team to sell well in order to afford to buy well,” says Gomes. “Of course, Benfica fans would love to have a team built from the academy that is full of Portuguese players who were made in the club.

    “I can talk as a fan also and I would love to see some of those players spending more years at the club before they leave.

    “But there is always a point when you have to sell and when that time comes, you have to sell well.”

    He adds: “At Benfica the main target is to have young talent and in Portugal it’s maybe easier for a 17 or 18-year-old to play than it is in the Premier League at a club like Arsenal.

    “The Premier League is much more competitive in terms of big teams and in terms of what the club expects from young talent. There is also more pressure on the young player when you play for a club like Arsenal in the Premier League.

    “I remember when Arsenal was known because of the good scouting and recruitment that they had to sign young talent. Now I think they are working on that also and at the moment they have some good talent coming through again.”

    Arsenal and Benfica go into Thursday night’s Europa League tie having both endured underwhelming seasons so far in their domestic competitions.

    With new coaches at the helm, it has been a time of transition for both amid the backdrop of a campaign like no other due to the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

    It is Arteta’s side who will start the tie as favourites, but even if Arsenal do come out on top over the two legs, there are still plenty of lessons they can learn from their Portuguese opponents off the pitch when it comes to doing business in the transfer market.

  • Thanks Total, in other news how dispiriting is it to see the Arsenal CEO complaining about racist abuse on social media, with Eddie Nketiah as its target. Where are the moderators?

  • It’s sickening Total, absolutely sickening and not least that the abuse came from a supposedly Arsenal fan I understand, I’ve not read it as I’m not in the slightest bit interested in reading it, there is no excuse and there is no excuse for it to remain up on line either as it gives oxygen to other racists of all types and persuasions, but it’s a sad comment on social media I’m afraid.

  • James Benge
    @jamesbenge
    The cruelty aimed at Eddie Nketiah, some by his own so-called supporters, is utterly despicable. Can you imagine knowing that any time you express yourself online you’re almost guaranteed to be abused?

  • Total, it’s not as if the kid has kept anyone out of the team as he’s hardly got any minutes on the pitch since the turn of the year, I’m not sure if it’s connected to the Balogun situation and some people, I refuse to call them fans, seem to have decided that it’s Eddie’s fault?

    I hope he gets on this evening…

  • Well I got it all wrong! Team unchanged:

    TEAM NEWS: Leno; Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel, Cédric; Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Aubameyang

  • That’s surprised nearly everyone. I guess Arteta must have seen something about the Benfica side to take the game more seriously than we (at least, I) expected.

    Annoyingly, Real Sociedad have lost 0-4 to United, re-enforcing the fact of the superiority of the English league over other European leagues.

  • Well, I – for one – am not enthusiastic about the complete lack of rotation. It’s not even minimal (Ryan, Holding, Pepe Lacazette) not to mention Elneny or Martinelli. At least they might join from the bench as there could be 5 substitutes.

    This is a gamble from Arteta (not for tonight, but for the rest of the season), which if turns out to be working then kudos to him. But if not, and by the last part of the season key players will get injured, will experience fatigue or burnout, then Mikel will be short on excuses.

  • I’m not the manager of Arsenal – and there is probably a good reason to it – but the facts that
    – so far only Tierney came on to substitute the best performer on the pitch (seemingly unnecessarily)
    – in 75 minutes there is not yet an offensive substitution to bring fresh legs
    are beyond me.

  • I missed 1st half. Would’ve gone with Holding and expected Lacazette. I guess i see why he stuck with the lineup. We did look sharp overall at the weekend.

  • We did, Jnyc. But this game was quite dull, even boring.
    In fact we had more key passes against Leeds on Sunday than both teams combined tonight. Attackers were quite ineffective on both sides. Our midfielders were above average (Ceballos, Odegaard and Cedric did good), the defenders weren’t really tested, and neither was Leno.
    It was a game where both teams focused on not taking risks thus not making errors, which is easy to understand, but was rather uninspiring to watch.
    I foresee the same approach in the second leg, so don’t expect a feast of goals.

  • Missed opportunity, Aubameyang should have killed this tie, now we face a nervy 2nd leg against a Benfica team that has mugged off written all over it…

  • 1991/92 is the only other time that Arsenal have faced Benfica in a 1st class competition and we got a creditable 0-0 in the Stadium of Light, took the lead in the 2nd leg at Highbury and lost 1-3 and I still don’t know how that happened?

    Benfica are masters at letting you think you’re in control before knocking you out…

    I’ll be very happy with a boring 1-0 Arsenal win in Greece next week.

  • It was 1-1 in Lisbon in ’91-’92. Kev Campbell scored for us. I was in the East stand for the return. It was a stiff lesson for George and the boys.
    Very impressed with Dani Ceballos this evening.

  • That was a very winnable affair. Haven’t slapped my forehead in some time. We should have tallied 2, 3 or 4 today.
    The credo: ‘We can be good. But we’re not good yet.’ — today was a perfect application.

    The craziness here in Houston this week with hard freezes, hundreds of thousands without power and no water has been challenging– but I did not want to miss out on GN5’s contest!

    Burnley v W.B.A = Home
    Liverpool v Everton = Home
    Fulham v Sheffield United = Home
    West Ham v Tottenham = Home
    Arsenal v Manchester City = Away
    Eintracht Frankfurt v Bayern Munich = Away

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