Arsenal and Benfica play out 1-1 draw in Rome

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ROME (Reuters) - Bukayo Saka earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw against Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday.

The youngster slotted home from close range in the 57th minute just after Benfica grabbed the lead with Pizzi's penalty.

A draw was the least Arsenal deserved as they carved out some great chances in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, which was hosting the game for Benfica because of COVID-19 travel restrictions between Portugal and the UK.

Saka could have scored again while team mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had an off night, missing several chances.

The tempo dropped in the latter stages with both sides going into next week's second leg, being played in Athens, with high hopes of making progress.

Arsenal dominated the first half and looked certain to take the lead when a well-worked move ended with Hector Bellerin rolling the ball across for Aubameyang who somehow side-footed wide when it looked easier to score.

Benfica took the lead against the run of play in the 55th minute when Arsenal's Emile Smith-Rowe was adjudged to have blocked a Diogo Goncalves cross with his arm.

Pizzi calmly side-footed the spot kick past Bernd Leno, but Arsenal's response was swift.

A neat build-up saw Martin Odegaard slide a ball in for Cedric to square and Saka converted.

Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick against Leeds United in the Premier League at the weekend on his return to the first team, should have twice put Arsenal in front, first dragging a shot wide, then delaying too long when played in on goal.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)