Aubameyang's late winner helps Arsenal make it to UEL last-16 against Benfica

The Gunners found themselves requiring two goals to avoid elimination, when Tierney and Aubameyang rose to the occasion to steer the side into the pre-quarterfinal stage.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring the third goal against Benfica on Thursday- REUTERS

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck a late winner as Arsenal dug deep to beat Benfica 3-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate to reach the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday.

MATCH CENTRE

Arsenal were in a position of strength in the 21st minute when Aubameyang was played in by Bukayo Saka's brilliant reverse pass and he calmly dinked a finish over Helton Leite.

But everything started to go wrong shortly before halftime when Benfica were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area and up stepped Diogo Goncalvez to curl the ball into the top corner, giving Bernd Leno no chance.

Calamity struck for the Gunners in the 61st minute when a hoof forward by Benfica keeper Leite was met by Arsenal midfielder Dani Ceballos but he nodded it straight into the path of Rafa Silva who rounded Leno to walk the ball into the empty goal for a crucial away goal.

It was a hammer blow for Arsenal who suddenly found themselves needing to score twice but they responded quickly when left back Kieran Tierney combined with Willian, before rifling a shot past Leite.

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There were still more than 20 minutes remaining, but Benfica calmly ran down the clock and looked on the verge of advancing when Saka delivered a pinpoint cross that gave Aubameyang the simplest of finishes.

 

There was still a nervous moment in stoppage time as Benfica hit the woodwork but Arsenal hung on to complete a notable win.

"I think everyone is happy tonight. This is what gives me power every day," said Aubameyang, who missed a hatful of chances in the first leg, played in Rome, which ended 1-1.

"The team showed character. We deserved the win," he added.

Arteta relieved to keep season alive

Following the victory, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta breathed a sigh of relief and felt that strong performances in the Europa League would help the team moving forward.

Eleventh in the Premier League and out of the FA Cup, a European exit would have turned up the heat on Arteta.

"Well certainly it keeps the season going in a much better way," the Spaniard said.

"This competition is going to help the Premier League for sure, to maintain everybody together, to have something to play for.

"Today it would have been really harsh with what has happened in the two legs to be out of the competition. So I'm extremely happy to be through."

Arteta expressed happiness at how midfielder Ceballos recovered from his lapse during the game and added that had that error cost Arsenal dearly, it could have been tough for the team to handle mentally.

"I'm especially happy for Dani (Ceballos) because he's a player that lives this profession like it's the most important thing in his life and when he made that mistake if that had cost the team to be out it would have been mentally really tough," Arteta said.

"So, that's when you need players in the team like we have like with Auba with Bukayo creating the situations, with Kieran Tierney scoring the goal to save him. Out of a difficult situation we created a really bright moment," he added.