Lacazette and Pepe on bench
Mikel Arteta has only made one change from the first-leg, with Kieran Tierney returning in place of Cedric Soares for tonight’s vital Europa League last-32 clash with Benfica in Athens.
Arsenal hold an advantage thanks to Bukayo Saka’s ‘away’ goal in last week’s 1-1 draw in Rome, but, in a game in which it could be argued Arsenal’s season is on the line, their second and third top goal scorers this season, Alexandre Lacazette and record signing Nicolas Pepe, are both on the bench. They are joined by Thomas Partey, as he works his way back from a hamstring injury.
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Martin Odegaard once again gets the nod to start following his recent arrival, despite being yet to register either a goal or assist for the Gunners.
Mikel Arteta gained a lot of respect for winning the FA Cup in his first season as Arsenal boss, and fans were no doubt hopeful that the club were set to push on this season. Unfortunately, this has since not proven the case, as the north Londoners have crashed out of both domestic cups, and currently sit in the bottom half of the Premier League.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta on the touchline during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London. (Photo by Andy Rain/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Europa League therefore represents Arsenal’s last chance of silverware this season, and probably their only realistic shot at securing entry into the Champions League, a competition they used to be a mainstay of.
With so much at stake, it seems surprising that Lacazette especially has been left on the bench, whilst Pepe has displayed arguably his best form this season in the Europa League.
Should Arsenal fail to position themselves in Friday’s draw for the last-16, the pressure will likely increase on Arteta.