The venues have now been confirmed for both legs of Arsenal’s UEFA Europa League tie with Benfica. The pair will meet in the round of 32, but due to the restrictions in place pertaining to the global pandemic, neither side will play at their home stadium.
While it was announced a few days ago that the first leg, Benfica’s home leg, would be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, confirmation on where the second leg would take place had yet to be received.
The Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis just outside of Athens was mentioned, but after Greek leaders announced the region would go back into lockdown until the end of the month, there was doubt regarding whether or not the home of Olympiacos would be a suitable venue.
However, UEFA have been given the green light for the fixture to take place in Greece, as confirmed by confirmed by Arsenal, and so the Gunners will now travel just shy of 2,000 miles to play their home game.
The additional travel now required certainly isn’t ideal for Mikel Arteta’s side, especially given that sandwiched in between these two fixtures they will take on Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Given the impact the pandemic has had on the world and not just on our sport, you can understand why many countries have imposed restrictions on travel – making UEFA’s job a difficult one with regards to fulfilling all the fixtures. However, surely some more common sense could have been applied.
As a result of the decision to move the second leg to Piraeus, Arsenal will travel approximately 850 miles further to play what is supposed to be their home fixture than they will to play the away leg.
The decision to stick with the away goals rule despite the fact neither side get to play at their actual home feels crazy – surely every goal scored would technically be an away goal?
So what are the alternative options? Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking ahead of their trip to West Brom at the weekend, told the media he wouldn’t object to the Europa League ties being reduced to one leg and pointed out that’s how the tournament was completed successfully last season (via the Manchester Evening News).
In United’s case, they will need to travel to Turin instead of San Sebastian to take on Real Sociedad and so although they still get to play their home leg at Old Trafford, he recognises that the Spanish outfit are at a disadvantage.
While it would be wrong to overlook the challenges UEFA are faced with and acknowledge that given the circumstances there is no ideal solution, the scrapping of the away goals rule or simply adjusting the ties to one-off fixtures surely makes more sense.