Strict COVID-19 quarantine rules for people returning to the UK from Portugal have recently been implemented by the government and forced the match, which will be played on February 18, to be moved to a neutral venue.
The return leg of the clash, which was originally scheduled to take place at the Emirates on February 25, will also have to be rescheduled. However, no decision has yet been taken on the matter.
Arsenal’s Europa League Match Moved to Rome Amid COVID Concerns
UEFA Rule Change Means Single-Leg Ties Could Return in Europa League
According to UEFA’s latest rule changes, the tie may be converted into a one-legged affair, similar to what happened during the final rounds of last year’s edition of the competition.
“The UEFA administration has the right to assign an alternative venue for any particular match or even to decide that either or both legs of the relevant round to be rescheduled and/or played in a neutral country (within the territory of a UEFA member association) and/or organised as a single leg,” UEFA rule K.1.8 reportedly reads.
The runners-up of the 2018/19 edition of the competition are the latest English club to see their European fixture reshuffled due to rising infection rates of new coronavirus variants across the continent.
On Monday, UEFA also announced that the first leg of the match between Norwegian outfit Molde and German team 1899 Hoffenheim will be moved to the Estadio de la Cerámica in Villareal.
Europa League is the Best Opportunity for Arsenal’s Champions League Hopes
With hopes of a Premier League top-four finish falling farther away for the Gunners, winning the Europa League is the most likely path for Arsenal to clinch a coveted group stage spot in next year’s Champions League.
In the runup to the Europa League knockout stage, Arsenal won maximum points in Group B, doing the double over Rapid Wien, Dundalk, and Molde. In the process, the Gunners scored 20 goals, the most ever for an English team in the Europa League group stage.
Benfica were also undefeated in Group D, claiming three wins and three draws but having to settle for second behind Rangers.
The two sides have only met once before in a UEFA competition, with Benfica edging Arsenal 4-2 on aggregate in the second round of the 1991/92 European Cup.
For the more superstitious Arsenal fans, the decision to move Benfica’s home match out of Lisbon will come as a relief; the 37-time Primeira League winners have never lost at home in the Europa League (21-5-0), including 15 wins in the knock out stage.
Meanwhile, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last nine European away games (not including the 2018/19 Europa League final) since capitulating to Rennes in April 2019.