Europa League: Arsenal 3 Benfica 2 (4-3 agg)

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates a goal

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring a goal - Credit: PA

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang proved Arsenal's Captain Marvel with an 87th-minute winner to send them into the Europa League last 16 in Athens.

Forced to play their home leg on neutral ground in Greece, as Benfica had when hosting the first leg in Rome, due to travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the Gunners looked to be bowing out on the away goals rule as the match drew to a close.

But Aubameyang, having opened the scoring on the night, headed home another pass from the impressive Bukayo Saka to save Mikel Arteta's blushes and keep Arsenal's season alive.

Tied at 1-1 following the 'away' leg last week, Arsenal went a goal ahead through Aubameyang only for Diogo Goncalves to level with a fine free-kick, awarded for a foul by Dani Ceballos.

Things went from bad to worse for the Spain midfielder as his poor defensive header allowed Rafa Silva to race through on goal and put the Portuguese club in front just after the hour.

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That left Arsenal needing to score twice to progress into the next round and they pulled one back through a low Kieran Tierney strike as the Scotland full-back marked his 50th appearance for the club in style.

Benfica looked to be managing the game well in the closing stages, only for Bukayo Saka to stand a cross up to the back post, where Aubameyang nodded in a dramatic winner.

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Not only had the Gabon forward missed a number of clear chances in the first leg but he was guilty of spurning a sitter when Arsenal were dumped out on away goals at this stage last season, losing to Olympiacos - whose Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium played host to Aubameyang's latest heroics.

Arteta had not shied away from describing the game as a 'final', with Arsenal languishing 11th in the Premier League and their FA Cup defence already over.

Winning the Europa League had seemed their best option for qualifying for continental football next year and those hopes remain alive for the time being.

After starting well, Aubameyang would open the scoring as he got onto the end of a slide-rule pass from Saka before applying a cool, lifted finish.

Ceballos played a fine ball to Saka, whose shot was saved even before the offside flag was raised - with Ceballos instead assisting in Benfica drawing level as he tripped Julian Weigl in dangerous territory.

Goncalves would curl home the resulting free-kick for his first Benfica goal and to send the teams in level at the interval.

The offside flag would deny Aubameyang a second of the night soon after the restart, latching onto a Martin Odegaard pass and stabbing home.

The same pattern at the start of the second half prompted Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus into a triple substitution, which helped redress the balance, but it was an error from Ceballos which allowed the Primeira Liga side to take the lead.

The Real Madrid loanee miscued a header from a long ball forward, allowing Silva to nip in and put Benfica in the driving seat.

Arteta reacted by bringing on Willian and Thomas Partey and the former provided an assist soon after, rolling the ball into the path of  Tierney who arrowed Arsenal level in the tie.

They would still have been heading out on away goals were it not for Aubameyang, who rose at the back post to nod in Saka's ball and win the tie. The draw takes place on Friday.

Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin (Lacazette 78), David Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Ceballos (Partey 63), Xhaka, Smith Rowe (Willian 63), Odegaard (Elneny 90), Saka (Chambers 90), Aubameyang.

Unused subs: Cedric, Pepe, Mari, Nketiah, Ryan, Martinelli, Hein.

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