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Who Are Benfica: Scouting Arsenal’s Europa League Opponent


Arsenal are set to resume their Europa League campaign tomorrow as they head to Italy to play Benfica on neutral ground for their first knockout match up of the competition. With the Europa League being the clearest path back into the Champions League for the Gunners, its important that they come out of this match up with the means to progress to the next round.

Just Who is Benfica?

Benfica often deploy in a 442 formation that shifts into a 226/316 in attack. Their double pivot consists usually of Weigl and Tarabt. The heatmaps of both suggest they tend to split up, with Weigl dropping between defenders and dictating play, and Tarabt operating in the area around the box, creating overloads and carrying the ball.


Going through the stats for Benfica this season shows a team that wants to have possession, averaging out around 63% per 90 min. Passing it through the thirds of the field they have most of their touches and passes around the midfield third. They tend to shy away from long balls, almost not creating any, and completing around 65-71%.

While they attack through all areas of the pitch, though slightly more through the wide areas, almost all shots on target come through the middle. These shots are taken around the 18 yard box with only a very slight percentage coming from the 6 yard box.

Until now, almost all their goals have been from open play, with 3 of their 33 goals coming from set pieces in Liga NOS. Their main goalscorer is Seferovic with 8 goals in the league so far – scoring mainly with his left foot. The next is german striker Waldschmidt, with 6 goals in which 5 were with his left foot. Neither striker seems to have much luck scoring with either their right foot or their head.


Haris Seferović, the Swiss forward is Benfica’s main goal scoring threat, with 8 goals scored in the league so far.

While most of their passes come from either midfielder, their main danger men seems to be wide, with Everton and Grimaldo deploying 2.x key passes per 90min.


Everton is one of the key influences on Benfica’s ability to progressively move the ball forward (image sourced from

A point to make is, also, that the stats suggest both fullbacks like to move forward and overlap, which the heatmap of Grimaldo, Almeida, and Goncalves also suggests.

As a last point to make, Benfica has done well in the league, averaging just shy of 2 goals per game, while conceding under 1 goal per game. As a comparison, Arsenal have averaged 1 goal both for and against so far this season.

Defending Against Benfica

As Benfica plays with a 4-4-2 that shifts to a 2-2-6/3-1-6 in attack, you can have the license to drop the wingers deep to defend against overloads. With only 2 midfielders, where one is expected to drop back, to allow the fullbacks to move up, setting 2 on Tarabt would kill forward passes through the middle.

When defending higher up, continuing with the high press we did against Leeds would effectively shut down moves into the second third and force Benfica long, which hasn’t been their strong suit.

All this should be right up the alley of Arsenal. Our biggest concern is being careful of overlapping runs, since our wingers tend not to track the FB all the way.

As Benfica tend to hit the opposition early, the most dangerous time for Arsenal is the beginning of the first and second half.


How to Attack Benfica

In their games, so far this season, they’ve conceded no goals on counter attacks, while averaging scoring 2 goals per game. But they seem to lose focus in the last minutes of the halves, with 36% of goals conceded coming from the last 10 minutes of both 1st and 2nd half.

Pinning them back and isolating their strikers, denying them a clear passage of play would give Arsenal the best chance to score, working to put our dangermen in 1v1 against Benficas aging CBs. With Tarabt not being the most defensive minded player, moving through central areas would force the attackers and wingers to come narrow to even out the numerical positions. Movement from wingers into half spaces would open up spaces both between the chains and out wide.

Projected Lineup

Since Arsenal have a difficult match against Manchester City just 4 days later, and since both Tierney and Partey have only JUST got ready, playing some of the reserves and resting some legs could be crucial for our PL campaign.

That being said, resting our key players in a game where our goals count as away goals would also be an opportunity wasted, I’d go with something to the image below.


Preferred XI for the match against Benfica

However, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the side might be ultimately unchanged from the Leeds game, with a mix of a few field players that need game time.

Though I expect the side might be ultimately unchanged from the Leeds game, I would still field players that need game time.


Benfica offer Arsenal a difficult opponent in their first knock out grouping of the Europa League. They are solid both in the attack and defensively but they do have weaknesses that can be exploited to the Gunner’s advantage. Arsenal have shown since Christmas that are starting to get some semblance of a fluid attacking team with a strong defensive support behind it. Some changes will be necessary as there are tired legs within the squad. With confidence high in the Gunners camp and quality coming off the bench to fill in where necessary, we should still see a solid Arsenal performance with  step into the next round.



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