Pizzi became the main goalscorer in the league this season with seven when he put Benfica up front from the penalty spot early in the second half after Emile Smith Rowe traded.
Arsenal could only blame themselves for falling behind after a poor finish, but Saka came in just over two minutes after Pizzi hit the neutral venue in Rome on Friday morning (AEDT).
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was particularly wasteful, but the Gunners are ahead of the second leg at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens next week.
Arsenal remained unchanged for the first time since September 2018 and Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick in Sunday’s victory over Leeds United, inexplicably missed a glorious opportunity to put them up front in 17 minutes.
Hector Bellerin appeared to have put an opening goal on a board for his captain as he crossed from the right, but the unmarked Aubameyang somehow failed to hit the target with his left foot.
Benfica offered little forward, but Granit Xhaka was relieved to get away with a terrible pass just before half-time, Dani Ceballos came to the rescue by blocking a cross from Diogo Goncalves with two unmarked men in red shirts waiting for a tap-in.
Saka shot a bad shot wide after Benfica was opened by Bellerin and Ceballos, but it was Benfica who drew the first blood from the penalty spot after 10 minutes in the second half.
Pizzi coolly threw home from 12 yards after Smith Rowe handled Goncalves’ cross, but the Premier League-side immediately hit back with an equalizer from Saka.
Martin Odegaard took a rising Cedric Soares with a sharp pass and the fullback’s cross was hidden from close range by the English winger Saka.
Aubameyang fired wide again when he should have hit the target and fit Kieran Tierney returned from the bench before Benfica substitute Everton fired the target against the goings-on.
Attacker Aubameyang took too long when he was given another clear opportunity to put Arsenal at the front, as neither side could form a winner.
What does it mean? All to play for in Athens
Arsenal will certainly be wondering how they won’t make the trip to Greece without only having the advantage of scoring an away goal in the first of two matches at neutral locations due to travel restrictions related to the coronavirus.
Benfica defended decisively, with veteran Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of their backline, but Arteta’s side could have put the band to bed had they shown more composure in front of goal.
Prolific Pizzi is Benfica’s man on the spot
Benfica skipper Pizzi seized his chance to open the score from the dot in an icy way.
He became the first Portuguese player to score at least seven goals for Benfica in a single continental season since the great Eusebio in the 1970-71 European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign. Pizzi’s opener was also the Eagles’ 100th Europa League goal.
Aubameyang is strangely out of order
Arsenal skipper Aubameyang fired on Leeds with a deadly treble on Sunday, but it was a completely different story in the Eternal City.
The former Borussia Dortmund man will not want to see his miss in the first half after Bellern set him up. That set the tone, as Aubameyang failed to hit the goal with two tries before not even getting a shot when he went one-on-one with Helton Leite in the second half.
Main Opta Statistics:
Since the start of last season, Saka (19y 166d) is the youngest Premier League player to score 10+ goals and provide 10+ assists in all competitions.
– Arsenal have managed to progress 13 of their previous 16 knockout matches in the major UEFA league in drawing or winning the away home leg.
– However, one of their three eliminations in that series came against Olympiacos at this exact stage of the Europa League last season.
– Since the start of the 2019/20 Europa League campaign, only Bruno Fernandes (10) has scored more goals in the competition than Benficas Pizzi (9).
Arsenal are at home against league-leader Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, while Benfica closes the week with a Primeira Liga clash in Farense.
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