By Rob Kelly
We secured our place in the last-16 of the Europa League in dramatic fashion in Athens after a late winner from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw off Benfica.
Trailing 2-1 midway through the second half, and needing to score twice to progress due to the away goals rule, it looked like a Greek tragedy was in the offing.
But Kieran Tierney fired in an equaliser to set up a frenetic finish and then, with minutes on the clock, the influential Bukayo Saka found Aubamayang in the area with a pinpoint cross and our captain made no mistake.
Having dominated the first leg in Rome last week, Mikel Arteta only made one change to his side for this game with Tierney replacing Cedric.
The first half was similar in many ways to much of the previous match, as we dominated possession and exerted real control from the off.
Aubameyang – who had missed a gilt-edged chance in the first leg – would not make the same mistake here, as he opened the scoring with an impudent finish after a beautiful reverse pass from Saka.
We had a warning of Benfica’s threat from set-pieces before the interval when Jan Vertonghen headed narrowly over, and then four minutes from the whistle they had their equaliser as Diogo Goncalves curled a superb free kick into the top corner.
It was another frustrating moment in this tie for us – and after the restart there was more frustration as Aubameyang had an early goal flagged narrowly offside.
Worse was to come when, just after the hour mark, a mistake by Dani Ceballos allowed Rafa Silva to race in on goal, round Bernd Leno and put Benfica in front.
Now we needed two to stay in the competition, but we responded well as Willian – on as a substitute minutes earlier – found Tierney in the box, and he rifled into the far corner.
It set up a grandstand finish, but there was a real scare when, with 17 minutes remaining, Gabriel took aim from the edge of the area for the visitors and flashed a strike inches wide.
It was tight and tense, and as the clock ticked down it was increasingly fraught, but with three minutes remaining the turnaround was complete as Saka sent a fine ball across goal for Aubameyang to head in from close range.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
Our place is booked in the last-16, with the draw due to take place on Friday in Nyon, Switzerland.
We fly back from Athens on Friday, and almost immediately we’re on the road again as we travel to Leicester City for a Sunday lunchtime kick off.
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