Arsenal will face Benfica in the Europa League round of 32.
However, in the Europa League it’s been nothing of the sort.
In Group B alongside Molde FK, Rapid Vienna and Dundalk, Arsenal recorded six wins from their six matches, netting 20 goals and finishing this stage of the competition with the only perfect record in both the Champions League and Europa League.
Securing top spot mean they would face an unseeded side in the round of 32, and the draw in Nyon, Switzerland landed them a two-legged affair against Portugal’s Benfica.
Given the options, Benfica were probably last on the the list. If not rock bottom, then close enough. However, that said, their form in the Europa League this season has not been exemplary.
They went through their group unbeaten, drawing on three occasions, but with 18 goals scored they were third in the scoring charts behind only Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen. As said, very far from ideal. Benfica also pose a reunion with former Sp*rs alumni Jan Vertonghen.
This is Arsenal’s fourth consecutive foray in this competition, first reaching the semi-final stage in the 2017/18 season before being knocked out by Atletico Madrid. The Gunners went one better the following campaign by reaching the final, but were humiliated 4-1 by Chelsea in the final.
Last season it was the round of 32 stage that proved to be Arsenal’s undoing, as they were knocked out on away goals to Olympiacos having won the first leg 1-0 away from home.
The plethora of last-32 fixtures are scheduled to take place on Thursday, 18th February, with the reverse legs penciled in for one week later on 25th February.
Kick-off times will follow the same pattern as had been done in the group stages, with the ties split between 17:55 GMT and 20:00 GMT.
The round of 16 draw will take place the day after the final fixtures on 26th February, a proposition that Arsenal can’t even begin to ponder.