Arsenal vs Benfica: Preview and Predictions for the Gunners Friendly in Portugal

Matthew CelentanoFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2011

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Manager of Arsenal Arsene Wenger  watches his players during a training session at London Colney on August 5, 2011 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Arsenal travel to Portugal for their last friendly of the preseason in a match that should see some close competition. Arsenal will want to go into their season opener at Newcastle coming off of a win, so coming out on top in tomorrow's clash with the Portugese outfit will be more important than it seems.

Finishing 2nd in the league this year, it may have seemed like Benfica had a good season. However, they ended up coming short of first by a massive margin, finishing a whopping 24 points behind rivals FC Porto.

Arsenal can expect a very large and passionate crowd at the Estadio da Luz, as Benfica has one of the largest fanbases in Portugal, with supporters in every section of the country. And they have statistics to prove it too, as Benfica are the club with the highest amount of paid club members in the world.

One of Benfica's key players is the club veteran Luisao, an experienced centre back who provides for the backbone of the defense. Given he plays tomorrow, he could be a real pain in the side to the Gunners, as some crucial interventions could thwart Arsenal's many attacks.

Other key players for Benfica, but these ones attackers, are Oscar Cardozo and Bruno Cesar, and they should prove to keep the Arsenal defenders busy for the full 90 minutes tomorrow.

Speaking of the Arsenal defense, it's tough to predict who we'll see starting in the back four. Arsene Wenger should continue to give new signing Carl Jenkinson a chance at right back, but we can expect Sagna to be subbed in later on in the match, as he's still preferred over the youngster.

Kieran Gibbs will probably be starting at left back, but it's very likely that we'll see both Gibbs and Armand Traore switch off at one point in the 90 minutes. Vermaelen definitely has a spot cemented as a centre back this season, but it seems as though Wenger hasn't yet decided whether he'll play Koscielny or Djourou alongside the Belgian international.

Johan Djourou was certainly more impressive than Koscielny last season, but Koscielny has clearly performed better in this preseason. However, Djourou is sure to start next to Vermaelen as Koscielny has a small injury and will be looking to recover as quickly as possible for kick off day.

Cesc Fabregas will be missing out on the trip to Portugal, but that's something I won't comment on as this transfer saga has become the single most annoying thing in current football. However, the players we can expect to see in central midfield are Emmanuel Frimpong, Alex Song, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey, of course not all on the pitch at the same time. The reason why Wilshere and Nasri aren't on that list is because the pair have picked up minor injuries, so they didn't make the squad in Portugal.

Alex Song will undoubtedly be a key player in Arsenal's quest for silverware this season, so Wenger will want to rest him for a portion of the match tomorrow, ensuring that he is fully fit for the season opener. Another reason Alex Song probably won't be playing the entire match is because Wenger will be sure to further develop Emmanuel Frimpong, the young defensive midfielder who's impressed in the preseason and could be a quality backup for Alex Song.

Aaron Ramsey is sure to see a time on the pitch tomorrow, as he's been one of Arsenal's best players this preseason. His vision has been superb, and he's proved that his shooting abilities are certainly above par.

So in central midfield, we can expect to see Ramsey, Frimpong, and probably Rosicky. The Czech international has surprisingly impressed in the preseason, with a goal and an assist to his name. Although he had a bad 2010-11 season, he seems to be hitting some good form recently.

The wingers that will probably be starting tomorrow are Andrei Arshavin and new signing Gervinho. The Ivorian international has been performing extremely well so far, proving to be an excellent signing by Arsenal. On the other wing, Arshavin will be looking to put in some better performances than usual, as the way his recent play has not been ideal. He's squandered plenty of chances this preseason, but the Russian dynamo is very hard to predict and could just as easily put in a stunning performance as he could a terrible one.

Starting at striker will surely be either Robin van Persie or Marouane Chamakh. Although Chamakh hasn't made any contributions so far this preseason, Wenger will probably give him one last chance to prove himself before opening day, and might just want to give him some playing time tomorrow.

Overall, Arsenal's match in Portugal should be a good one, but ultimately the Gunners should be able to grab the win.

Final Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Benfica