Mikel Arteta has revealed that he’s anticipating a stern test on Thursday night, as Arsenal prepare for their crucial Europa League last-32 tie with Benfica.
It’s been a turbulent season thus far for the Gunners in the Premier League but their European commitments have so far been a welcome distraction, Arteta’s side having won all six of their Europa League games in the group stage.
After losing back-to-back Premier League games in recent weeks, the weekend saw them end their mini-slump in superb style, the Gunners hitting four past Leeds United at the Emirates.
Despite a late scare from the visitors, Arteta’s men managed to hang on for a much-needed win, as they look to try and reduce the gap between themselves and the top four.
The north London club are currently 10th in the league and in real danger of missing out on European football next season, with the Europa League offering a direct route into the Champions League, should they win the competition.
While they would have been hoping for a more straightforward tie at this early phase of the knockout stage, Arsenal have been handed a difficult task against an impressive Benfica side.
Ahead of the first-leg this evening – which has been moved to Rome due to Covid-19 travel restrictions – Arteta admitted that he’s expecting a tough game against a ‘dangerous’ opponent.
‘What I can say is that they’re a really competitive team, a really high-rhythm team. They have a really high press and they are dominant when you allow them to be,’ Arteta told his pre-match press conference.
‘They have very aggressive attacking players too. When they have the space to attack and they are close to the final third, they are really dangerous.
‘Their manager has a huge history in football and some of our players know him really well as well. There’s a big respect there and they’re going to be a difficult opponent.’
Benfica head into the clash with just one win from their past six league fixtures, having dropped to fourth in the race to win the Primeira Liga this season. The Portuguese side qualified for the knockout stages after finishing as runners-up to Rangers in Group D.