When Arsenal drew Benfica in the Europa League Round of 32 it was widely viewed as the toughest possible task they could have got.
The Portuguese outfit are a side with established European pedigree having reached the final of this competition as recently as 2015 who have been domestic champions 37 times in their history.
But where does this current side rank when it comes to its predecessors?
With a few familiar faces to Premier League fans and some of the best young talent in Europe here football.london takes a look at everything you need to know about Arsenal’s Europa League opponents.
Those who watched Liverpool’s Club World Cup triumph will likely recognise Jorge Jesus as the manager who took Flamengo so close to being champions of the world.
Back in his second spell with Benfica the 1970s rock star-looking manager has a point to prove after being written off by many following a difficult end to his spell with Sporting Lisbon in 2018.
Speaking before the game the Portuguese boss admitted that he is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against opposition of the calibre of the Gunners.
“These competitions are always ideal, because they are the ones where the big teams are,” he said. “Benfica will play with Arsenal, who are a great team.”
Style of play
Jesus’ tactics this season have been something of a footballing throwback as he has generally tended to set his side up in some form of 4-4-2 formation.
Former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Julian Weigl tends to sit at the base of the midfield, while more attacking players around him like Pizzi and Rafa Silva get forward to support the attack.
They are an offensive side who look to use their abilities in the final third to outscore their opponents.
In recent weeks though their tactical approach has been disrupted by a high number of COVID cases within the camp. In mid-January the club confirmed that 17 of their staff had tested positive for the virus, which has severely affected the team’s results
COVID aside though Benfica have been struggling for a while now.
Since the turn of the year they have won just twice in the league and currently sit fourth in the Liga NOS, 13 points of leaders Sporting Lisbon.
In Europe however, their record is much better. As Águias are unbeaten in their last 26 matches at the Estadio da Luz.
Unfortunately for them though the game is being played in a neutral venue in Rome due to coronavirus protocols issued by the UK government, so home advantage goes out of the window.
As mentioned before, Benfica’s strengths lie in the offensive positions.
Only Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen outscored the Portuguese side in the Europa League group stages and in Pizzi they have the competition’s joint top scorer.
The Gunners defence has been relatively sturdy in the Premier League this season, but if they are not at the top of their game then this could prove to be a tough test.
At the other end of the pitch however, is where the problems lie for Benfica.
In Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi they have a first choice pairing of two former Premier League, 33-year-old centre backs, both of whom are showing signs of ageing.
At left back Alex Grimaldo is great going forward but leaves a lot to be desired going the other way, while both of their senior right backs in Andre Almeida and Gilberto are out injured meaning Diogo Goncalves, who is usually a right winger, will continue to deputise in defence.
Arsenal go into the game fresh off the back of putting four past Leeds in the Premier League, and if they are efficient there’s a chance they could rack up even more against this Benfica side.
Benfica are a club known for their young talent and in Uruguayan centre forward Darwin Nunez they appear to have found another gem.
Brought in from Almeira over the summer for a club record £21.6m (as per transfermarkt ), the 21-year-old has 12 goals in 30 appearances this season, and is already being backed to surpass the levels of Joao Felix by his manager.
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“We got it right. We must not forget that he is a kid, he is 21 years old, there is a lot about the game that he does not know yet. He will learn with me and Benfica,” Jesus told SportTV .
“All this decision-making ability, finishing and speed…He was Benfica’s most expensive purchase, and when there is no pandemic, he will be the most expensive sale. He will be a world-class player.”
Given that Felix went to Atletico Madrid for €126m two summers ago, that is quite the player As Águias believe they’ve got on their hands.