Mikel Arteta is pleased to have avoided a “mentally tough” setback for Dani Ceballos, with the on-loan midfielder dug out of a hole against Benfica by Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Spain international playmaker endured an evening to forget against the Portuguese giants on Thursday as he conceded a free-kick that led to one goal and made a defensive error for the second.
The Gunners countered those mistakes to run out 3-2 winners on the night and book their place in the last-16, with Arteta happy to see Ceballos let off the hook, saying the 24-year-old caring more than he could as a player not tied to a “10-year contract” in north London.
What has been said?
Arteta told the Gunners' official website after seeing his team extend their continental adventure: “I’m especially happy about Dani because he’s a player that lives this profession like the most important thing in his life, and when he made that mistake, if that would have cost the team, it would have been mentally really tough.
“That’s when you need players in the team like the ones we have with Auba and Bukayo creating and KT [Kieran Tierney] scoring the goal to save him. Out of a difficult situation we created a really nice moment.”
The Arsenal boss added: “I'm especially happy for him because he really loves this game and he does everything in the right way to be as prepared as possible. You can see how he celebrates every single goal.
“He doesn't have a 10-year contract at the club, he's on loan and still feels and defends this club in the best possible way. I think someone like him deserves good things to happen to him in football.”
What happened against Benfica?
Arsenal headed into the return leg of the heavyweight showdown with the tie locked at 1-1 on aggregate.
They were playing on Greek soil, and made life difficult for themselves through an hour of disjointed action.
Aubameyang opened the scoring, but Benfica made the most of Ceballos’ gifts to turn the contest on its head.
Inspiration was needed from somewhere, and Scotland international full-back Tierney was the man to provide it as he drilled home a leveller in the 67th minute.
A grandstand finish was set up, with Saka crossing for Aubameyang to grab a dramatic winner three minutes from the end.
When is the last-16 draw?
Arteta’s side will discover their next opponents on Friday.
The draw will take place in Nyon at 12pm GMT, with it possible that Premier League rivals will be paired with one another as there is no country protection at this stage.
Alongside Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham have made their way into the last-16, with Scottish giants Rangers also making progress under Steven Gerrard.