Arsenal vs Benfica Europa League game to be moved to Rome

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Arsenal’s Europa League last-32 first leg against Benfica has been moved from Lisbon to Rome due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The game – which will take place on 18 February – has become the latest European fixture to be affected by the global pandemic.

Sevilla are the current Europa League holders
Sevilla are the current Europa League holders | Lars Baron/Getty Images

Earlier this month it was confirmed that Liverpool’s Champions League round of 16 tie against RB Leipzig would take place at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary, as opposed to Germany.
Soon after the switch was confirmed, Manchester City’s game against Borussia Monchengladbach was also moved to the same venue.

Now, PA Sport has reported that Arsenal’s game against Benfica will be switched as well. Portugal is on a list of ‘red list’ countries to which travel is currently restricted. Although elite sports teams were granted exemptions from these rules in this past, they have been denied this by most governments for the latest round of cross-border fixtures.

The new venue will be in Rome, and will likely be the Stadio Olimpico. Further venue changes are expected in the near future as well with journalist Mark Mann-Bryans reporting that Arsenal’s home leg would be played at a neutral stadium as well.

Benfica are currently enduring an indifferent season, making the Gunners favourites for the clash. The Eagles currently sit fourth in the Primeira Liga table, eight points adrift of rivals Sporting, who also have a game in hand. They were also less than convincing in Europe, drawing three games and finishing two points shy of Group D winners Rangers.

Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a strong Europa League display this season. With Arsenal still some way off the top four, winning the competition represents their best opportunity of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

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