Arteta frustrated by misfiring Gunners in Benfica draw

By Sports Desk February 18, 2021

Mikel Arteta warned Arsenal must be more ruthless after they had to settle for a 1-1 Europa League round of 32 draw with Benfica in the first leg at Stadio Olimpico.

Bukayo Saka equalised just over two minutes after Pizzi had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, with Emile Smith Rowe punished for handling a Diogo Goncalves cross in the second half in Rome on Thursday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inexplicably wasted a glorious chance to put the Gunners in front in the first half and the captain missed another couple of opportunities five days after scoring a hat-trick against Leeds United.

Saka's away goal in the first of two legs played at neutral venues due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions gives the Premier League club a slight advantage.

Arsenal boss Arteta was frustrated that his side were so wasteful, though, leaving the tie finely poised ahead of the second leg at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens next Thursday.

"We were very dominant and created some big chances," he told BT Sport. "We have to be more ruthless.

"It was disappointing the way we conceded the goal. We gave them the ball then it was 1-1 and all to play for.

"We conceded a corner then, from the corner, we did not react quick enough and conceded the penalty. Looking at it, it's difficult to judge. We had a great reaction and scored a great goal.

"We tried to maintain the level. Both teams dropped in the last 20 minutes, but overall we should leave the ground with more."

Saka knows Arsenal have little margin for error after the 19-year-old became the youngest Premier League player to have scored 10 or more goals and provided at least 10 assists since the start of last season.

The versatile England international said: "It is about managing the game. Last year when we went out to Olympiakos we conceded a silly goal. We can't put a foot wrong because if we do we will make it difficult for ourselves."

Related items

  • Portugal's national health institute reports 13 cases of Omicron variant at Belenenses SAD Portugal's national health institute reports 13 cases of Omicron variant at Belenenses SAD

    Portugal's national health institute, INSA, has reported 13 cases of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 at Belenenses SAD.

    B-SAD were forced to face Benfica on Saturday with just nine players - including two goalkeepers - after positive tests for 13 members of the squad.

    Benfica went into half-time 7-0 up and B-SAD were forced to forfeit shortly after the restart due to insufficient players as injuries reduced the hosts - who were without any substitutes - to six men.

    Among the B-SAD players to miss out was Cafu Phete, who had recently spent time in South Africa - where the Omicron variant was first detected - and it now appears that he and the other 12 members of the squad have tested positive for this new strain of coronavirus. 

    "Preliminary tests carried out at INSA strongly suggest that all 13 cases associated with players of Belenenses SAD are linked to the variant of concern Omicron," INSA's statement to Publico read.

    "The predictive value of the tests carried out is already very high."

    Benfica's players are set to be tested as Portuguese authorities respond to the Omicron variant being found inside the country's borders.

    "We'll have more proactive isolation and a more intensive testing of contacts," Graca Freitas - Portugal's Director-General for Health - told TSF. 

    Flights into Portugal from Mozambique have now been banned, while two positive cases were discovered among the 218 people to have arrived on the last such flight on Saturday.

  • Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd

    Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

    The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

    While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

    This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

    Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

     

    Fix the defence

    United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

    That tells you something about the state of their defence.

    Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

    Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

    Get Bruno firing again

    So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

    He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

    He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

    Accommodate Ronaldo

    Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

    It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

    There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

    And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

    Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

    Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

    Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

    There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

    Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

    Give Donny a chance

    It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

    Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

    Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

  • Rangnick proclaimed one of football's great 'innovators' after Man Utd appointment Rangnick proclaimed one of football's great 'innovators' after Man Utd appointment

    New Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick is "one of the most respected innovators" in the game, according to football director John Murtough.

    The Red Devils announced the appointment of the former Hoffenheim, Schalke and RB Leipzig boss on Monday, eight days after the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Rangnick, 63, will take charge of the team for the rest of the season before taking up a two-year consultancy role at Old Trafford. He leaves a post as head of sports and development at Lokomotiv Moscow.

    Murtough said via the club's website: "Ralf is one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football. He was our number one candidate for interim manager, reflecting the invaluable leadership and technical skills he will bring from almost four decades of experience in management and coaching.

    "Everyone at the club is looking forward to working with him during the season ahead, and then for a further two years in his advisory role."

    Rangnick, who is known for his high-pressing philosophy and influence on some of Bundesliga's brightest minds, started his career with his hometown club Viktoria Backnang.

    After spells with the likes of Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, Hannover and Schalke, Rangnick enjoyed a brief managerial stint with RB Leipzig, who rose from the fourth tier of German football to the Bundesliga with the new United man as director of football.

    Across 293 games in the German top flight, Rangnick has 120 victories to his name at a win percentage of 41.

    "I am excited to be joining Manchester United and focused on making this a successful season for the club," Rangnick said.

    "The squad is full of talent and has a great balance of youth and experience. All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and, most importantly, as a team.

    "Beyond that, I look forward to supporting the club's longer-term goals on a consultancy basis."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.