Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus insists the Europa League is not a “lifeline” to save their ailing season as he plots the downfall of Arsenal in their round-of-32 tie.
Both legs will be played at neutral venues due to current coronavirus restrictions on travel, meaning Benfica will host the first leg in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night.
The return leg a week later will not take place in London but will instead be played in Greece at the the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium – home of Olympiacos.
Benfica head into the first leg having won just two of their last eight matches in all competitions, a run which leaves them fourth in the Primeira Liga – 13 points adrift of leaders and city rivals Sporting.
But Jesus feels the Europa League must be seen as more than simply a way of balancing out their season to date as the 66-year-old targets a run deep into the competition.
“There is no lifeline,” he told reporters at his pre-match press conference.
“Benfica qualified for the Europa League and we had a very good group stage without any defeats and we intend to go as far as possible in this competition.
“We will face an opponent who also has ambitions in this competition – it’s a good thing we’re here, it’s a sign that we’re competing.
“This is not a lifeline. Benfica are in the Europa League and wants to go as far as possible.
“These competitions are always ideal, because they are the ones where the big teams are. Benfica will play with Arsenal, who are a great team.”
Benfica boast a fine recent home record in the Europa League and – factoring in qualifying rounds – are unbeaten in 26 games at the Estadio da Luz.
— SL Benfica (@slbenfica_en) February 16, 2021
But, with home advantage all but extinguished by the relocation of both legs, Jesus admits that run counts for nothing ahead of the meeting with the Gunners.
“Of course there is,” he replied when asked if there was a difference between playing in Portugal or Rome.
“Playing at Estadio da Luz is one thing, playing on a neutral pitch is another. I have no doubt of that.
“But it is also true that we are not going to play in London (next week), so things are the same for both teams.”