Arsenal managed to out-Arsenal themselves last Thursday in Belarus, and as a result face a far trickier test than they might have expected. Losing 1-0 away from home in Europe is one of the worst results you can come away it.
If Arsenal take a 1-0 lead on Thursday, it will do little to ease the nerves of those inside the Emirates. Even taking a two-goal lead will still leave a sense of unease, with the potential of BATE striking an unlikely away goal and knocking Arsenal out hanging over the place.
Arsenal, therefore, need goals, and plenty of them if they want to make sure of their place in the last 16 of the Europa League. UEFA’s secondary competition looks like Arsenal’s best bet to ensure Champions League football next year, If the Gunners are serious about winning it, they will have to stamp their authority all over this game.
The Gunners face a relatively handy fixture on Sunday against Southampton at home, so they can afford to go full throttle on Thursday night, and they should have far too much for their Belarussian opponents with the benefit of home comforts.
Verdict: Arsenal (-2) @11/10
Benfica have more than one foot in the last 16 after they recorded an impressive 2-1 win in Istanbul last week. Turkey is never an easy place to go and arguably boasts a more hostile atmosphere in Europe for visiting teams.
It was by all accounts a largely even game, but without home advantage, the Turks become a lot less formidable. Galatasaray lost each of their three Champions League group stage games on the road and failed to score a single goal on their travels.
Benfica, on the other hand, can boast a near impeccable home record. The Portuguese club has lost just twice at home all season, coming in the form of a shock 3-1 defeat to Moreirense and a 2-0 reversal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
That defeat to Bayern also represents the only time Benfica have failed to score at the Estadio Da Luz this season. In all, Benfica have failed to win at home just five times and are incredibly hard to beat in Lisbon. Already holding all the aces in this tie, Benfica look a good bet to make their progression even more comfortable.
Verdict: Benfica to win @ 8/13
Benjamin Verbic put Dynamo Kiev in the driving seat in this tie when he popped up with an 89th minute equaliser in Athens to leave the tie poised at 2-2. The big issue for the Ukrainian side last week was that they hadn’t played a competitive game in over two months and might struggle against a side that had been playing regularly. That Olympiacos also had a formidable home record, made the task that bit more daunting.
They came through the test relatively unscathed, however, and now have 90 minutes of competitive football under their belts.
With two away goals to their name, Kiev are strong favourites to progress to the last 16 but can’t afford to settle for a goalless draw. An early goal will put the tie even further out of Olympiacos’ reach and make life that bit easier for the Ukrainian side.
Olympiacos’ away record is as unformidable as their home record is formidable.
The Greek side lost both of their Europa League away games against noteworthy opponents, with their only win in the competition coming against lowly F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg. All things considered, Kiev should have too much for their Greek opponents and should make life that bit easier for themselves on Thursday.
Verdict: Dynamo Kiev to win @ 11/10