Arsenal will play the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 clash against Benfica at Stadio Olimpico in Rome and the second ‘home’ leg away at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens.
As with so many fixtures across the European calendar, countries’ respective coronavirus protocols have resulted in matches being played on neutral ground to bypass the issue of quarantine and to ensure maximum safety for all involved.
Earlier in February a decision was made to move Liverpool’s Champions League round of 16 tie against RB Leipzig, originally set for the Red Bull Arena, to Budapest’s Puskas Arena due to Germany’s protocols, a decision that prompted the same choice of venue for Manchester City’s game against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Now Arsenal have confirmed the decision to have the tie played in both cities, the first while Roma play the first leg of their Europa League clash away from home. With the ties listed as home and away that ensures away goals rules will still apply.
Arsenal vs Benfica Europa League ties to be played in Rome and Athens as confirmed
Stadio Olimpico hosted a memorable night for Arsenal as, despite losing 1-0, the Gunners secured a penalty shootout win over Roma in 2009 to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Arsenal’s ‘home’ tie has also finally been resolved. With Benfica barred from entering the United Kingdom, a decision has been made.
"A statement read: “Our ‘home’ fixture will be played at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens, Olympiacos’ stadium, on February 25. Kick-off has yet to be confirmed.”"
Bizarrely, if Arsenal had been unable to find a suitable venue they would have been handed a 3-0 loss, which would’ve been somewhat amusing if they, say, won 3-0 in the first ‘away’ leg.
With alternate stadiums no announced in Italy and Greece, it does beg the question why have UEFA reverted to two-legged affairs unlike the straight one-game knockout system they implemented for last season’s European fixtures. In the interest of safety, not many would’ve complained if the round of 32 tie was switched to a single fixture and a level playing field for all.
Only UEFA could find a way for Arsenal to play in Olympiacos’ stadium without actually drawing them in European competition.