Mikel Arteta’s big Arsenal decisions paid off against Benfica on Thursday evening paid off.
Much to the disappointment of Gunners legend Martin Keown, the Spaniard largely kept faith in the side that started the Europa League round of 32 first-leg draw at the Stadio Olimpico.
With Kieran Tierney replacing Cedric Soares at left-back in the only change, it meant captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started through the middle once again, with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and Martin Odegaard offering support from midfield.
And after missing three golden chances in the first-leg, the 31-year-old certainly made amends with a brace to set up Arsenal ‘s round of 16 tie against Olympiacos.
Aubameyang’s first of the evening put the Gunners ahead on aggregate, but Arteta ‘s side were stunned either side of half-time as goals from Diogo Gonclaves and Rafa Silva left them on the brink of elimination.
Needing to score two goals without reply to effectively save the north London outfit’s season, Arteta immediately made a double change with Thomas Partey and Willian replacing Dani Ceballos and Smith Rowe.
That decision had an immediate impact with the Brazilian claiming an assist for Tierney to make it 2-2 and set up a tense final 23 minutes plus extra time.
But Arsenal still needed another as the tie edged towards its conclusion.
And it would arrive in the 87th minute as Saka’s pinpoint cross was headed home at the back post by Aubameyang to complete the stunning turnaround.
However, BT Sport’s highlights video package of the five-goal thriller – uploaded to YouTube – has revealed what Arteta did as soon as the ball hit the back of the net for the Gunners.
At around the 4.23-minute mark in the aforementioned video, the Arsenal manager can be seen on the sideline preparing to make another substitution.
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It’s tough to make out exactly who Arteta had in mind to bring on, but judging by the pink boots it would appear that Nicolas Pepe was set to be the last throw of the dice.
Although, Aubameyang’s goal clearly altered the Spanish tactician’s thought process as there was no need to throw on an extra attacker with the focus shifting to ensuring Benfica didn’t score again.
As a result, Arteta presumably told Pepe to sit back down as Calum Chambers and Mohamed Elneny were his final two substitutes.