Mikel Arteta was about to have the worst nightmare of the season as the manager of Arsenal football club on Thursday, February 25, before his club’s talisman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave the perfect reaction.
Recall that the first leg of the tie ended 1-1 at Benfica’s home on February 18 (played at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy due to coronavirus restriction). And the second leg almost ended 2-2 at Arsenal’s home (played at Karaiskaki Stadium in Greece) which would have been enough for Benfica to scale through to the round of 16 on away goals rule.
But when he was needed the most, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang showed up in the 87th minute of the game to score with his head to end the game 3-2, and Arsenal qualified for the next round 4-3 on aggregate.
Before he scored the winner, the 31-year-old Gabonese striker who has been having it tough to score goals for Arsenal consistently this season, scored the opener in the 21st minute. Benfica canceled the lead through Diogo Gonçalves in the 43rd minute.
In the second half of the Europa League match, Benfica took the lead for the first time in the game through Rafa Silva in the 61st minute. Kieran Tierney of Arsenal returned the Premier League club to the contest with his 67th-minute goal.
Before this point of the game, #ArtetaOut was already trending on Twitter because it was looking like the best Arsenal could get from the game was a 2-2 draw which would not have been enough to keep the club in the competition. From the blues, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang silent the club’s doubters with the match-winner.
Aubameyang’s 87th-minute goal against Benfica last night is seen as a repayment of the costly mistake the Gabonese striker made last season in the same stage of the competition which cost Arsenal a place in the round of 16.
“Definitely, I had this in my head, but this is what gives me power every day, to take the error from the past and transform it to strength,” Aubameyang said after the victory over Benfica on Thursday.
“The team showed character, a lot of character and I think we deserved the win. What we showed tonight, I think it’s going to be an example for the future.”
While embattled Arsenal’s coach, Mikel Arteta said: “The last few days after the game in Rome against them, where he missed three or four opportunities and normally they are three goals for him.
“He needed to react and it was great to see the way he reacted is being upset and trying to be better – and not just feeling sad for yourself at this moment.
“This is the beautiful thing about football, if you keep going you always have the chance to put it right.”
So far this season, Aubameyang has scored a total of 13 goals in 26 appearances in all competitions. Eight of his goals were scored in the Premier League while three of his goals were scored in the Europa League. He scored a goal each in the FA Cup and Community Shield before the club was knocked out of the competitions.
Arsenal are currently sitting on the 11th spot on the league table with 34 points in 25 league games, 25 points away from first placed Manchester City, which means the club does not stand a chance in the Premier League. The only title the club can dare to win this season is the Europa League.