Mikel Arteta said Arsenal left their Europa League last-32 tie ‘open’ with a lack of ‘ruthlessness’ in front of goal against Benfica but insisted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ‘unlucky’ with his missed chances in the first leg.
Aubameyang passed up a golden opportunity to break the deadlock as he side-footed wide of the post from close range midway through the first half and Emile Smith Rowe’s handball inside the area saw Pizzi give Benfica the lead from the penalty spot in the 55th minute.
Bukayo Saka, arguably the Gunners’ player of the season at the halfway stage, found an immediate equaliser just two minutes later to set up an enthralling final half-hour in Rome.
And while two more chances fell to Aubameyang, the Arsenal captain dragged the first wide of Helton Leite’s post before having the ball stolen from him by Lucas Verissimo for the second and the match finished all square.
It leaves the tie finely poised ahead of next week’s second leg at the Emirates and a frustrated Arteta felt his team should have come away from the Stadio Olimpico with more than a draw.
‘I think we had to leave the stadium with much more than what we have right now,’ the Spaniard told reporters at his post-match press conference.
‘Everything is completely open until next Thursday. We have some positives to take from the game because we dominated the game and we had patches of really good moments where we created some big chances.
‘We weren’t ruthless enough in the opponents’ box and the disappointing thing, obviously, is the way we concede the goal.’
On Aubameyang’s missed chances, Arteta said: ‘These things happen.
‘He was at the end of the biggest chances we had, he was a real threat against this opponent with the line they propose all the time.
‘He was unlucky not to score two or three tonight because in normal circumstances that would have been the case.’
Saka was once again in inspired form for the north London club and the youngster took his goals tally to six in all competitions with his 57th-minute strike.
‘He’s in a great moment, he’s full of confidence and he’s been really important in the recent results,’ Arteta said when asked about Saka’s display.
‘His form is the highest probably that it’s been since I’ve been here and he’s been really consistent.
‘He needs to keep going and keep doing what he’s doing because at the moment he’s a big part of the team.’
Arteta said it was Arsenal’s responsibility to manage expectations over Saka after the teenager’s barnstorming start to the 2020/21 campaign.
‘I think we have to protect him and keep the expectations where they should be,’ he added.
‘We have to support him, give him the best possible advice all the time and manage his minutes so he can maintain this level.
‘He’s been a real threat, he’s been involved in a lot of goals all the time and the consistency of the performance makes him a starter, obviously, so it’s a fine balance.
‘But at the same time he’s 19 years old and we have to protect him.’
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