Arsenal vs. Benfica Thursday Europa League Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Back Gunners in Must-Win Spot
Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images. Pictured: Arsenal standout Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
- Arsenal's hopes for European soccer next season rest on the Europa League.
- After a 1-1 draw in the first leg against Benfica, the Gunners travel to Athens for Thursday's "home" leg.
- Matt Trebby breaks down why he's backing Arsenal securing a much-needed win below.
Arsenal vs. Benfica Odds
|Day | Time||Thursday | 12:55 p.m. ET|
|TV||CBS All Access|
Arsenal’s best chance to qualify for European soccer next season is through the Europa League, and it will have to deliver a big performance Thursday against Benfica to keep its dream alive.
Manager Mikel Arteta’s team is in the middle of the Premier League season, and even qualifying for a Europa spot through England’s top flight looks unlikely at the moment. The Gunners are out of the FA Cup, as well, which means it’s Champions League or bust next season for the Gunners.
This fixture, which will see Benfica as the away team, will take place in Athens due of COVID-19 restrictions in England. Arsenal got its “away” goal last week in Rome, although it will be disappointed to have netted just once.
With the Gunners favored at a reasonable number, let’s see whether they’re the smart bet in this matchup.
The Gunners have now lost three of four February games in league play. The first came via their 2-1 loss to Wolves that saw David Luiz controversially sent off right before halftime. Arsenal wound up finishing that match with nine players on the field. Next came a defeat against Aston Villa before the Gunners secured a win over Leeds United on Feb. 14.
Arsenal’s problem throughout the season has been an inability to get the ball into threatening positions in the opponent’s 18-yard box. The addition of Martin Odegaard and breakout run of performances from Emile Smith Rowe have given them a new dynamic in midfield, while Bukayo Saka has emerged as one of the league’s best young players.
In the first leg against Benfica last week, Arsenal broke through the Portuguese side’s backline more than once, but poor finishing from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang meant it traveled back to London with just one goal.
While Aubameyang had multiple strong chances, Saka’s goal was really the only other glorious chance. Arsenal is still a work in progress in terms of creating more scoring opportunities. The Gunners finished the first leg with just 1.38 xG, according to The xG Philosophy.
Arsenal will be without center back Rob Holding, but it received good news this week regarding Thomas Partey. The midfielder is training with the team, thus making the traveling party to Athens. Needless to say, his inclusion in the starting lineup would be a massive boost.
Benfica is in the midst of a down season in the Primeira Liga, currently sitting fourth in the table and four points behind Braga with 14 matches to play. The Lisbon giant is 15 points behind city rivals Sporting, who are running away with the league.
The club does rank second in expected goals for (xGF) in the league at 34.5, trailing only second-place FC Porto. They’re also second in expected goals against (xGA), with Sporting leading that category.
Benfica has lined up in a 4-4-2 most of the season, but switched to what played out mostly to be a 5-3-2 for the first leg. Usually, a team with three center backs looks to unleash the wingbacks in an effort to boost the attack, but Benfica played with them primarily as defenders in an effort to keep Arsenal at bay.
The Gunners were still able to grab an away goal, although Benfica might be content with that result.
Betting Analysis & Picks
The way the first leg played out isn’t necessarily going to be the same for this contest.
The main goal as the home team in Europe nowadays is to keep a clean sheet, given the away-goals tiebreaker. Since that was Benfica’s home game, it might have been content to sit back and soak up Arsenal’s pressure.
Now that the Portuguese side will be the away team, does that change how they’ll attack the game? I think so. Benfica have to score. Otherwise, they’re going out.
That should play into Arsenal’s hands. The Gunners have conceded just seven goals in nine Premier League fixtures since the start of 2021 (9.11 NPxGD).
The non-penalty xG advantage in the first leg was in favor of Arsenal by a 1.38-0.35 margin. Benfica’s total should be higher in this meeting, and a more open game suits the Gunners.
I’m going to back Arsenal to go through and win the match. The Gunners have more life in their attack, and this competition is their biggest priority the rest of the season.
Pick: Arsenal ML (-120)