Before the match, there was an air of confidence. Arsenal had been to Lisbon and came home with a point thanks to Kevin Campbell’s equaliser in the Stadium of Light. At Highbury, well, we would win surely? The Portuguese champions were not a great team, a great European club by all means but not a foe to be feared. In that sense, the optimism was not misplaced but Arsenal had their own problems.
Colin Pates had dropped into the centre of defence in the absence of Bould, O’Leary and Linighan. The former returned to the bench for this match. Tony Adams meanwhile, was struggling with an achilles injury. The team itself was in mixed form. The title defence was not going well, partly due to George Graham’s inability to strengthen the squad in the summer and a record of 9 wins with 6 draws and 6 defeats in all competitions underlined that.
Arsenal went into this match on the back of two single goal defeats to West Ham and Coventry but from the kick-off, there was a renewed vigour about their play. Campbell rattled the post in the opening five minutes and when Pates broke the deadlock, it was no surprise.
Benfica were gradually able to keep possession in the blustery conditions and the lessons of European club competition were handed to Arsenal. It does not matter how much of the ball you have, being able to protect a lead is vital. Any chance must be scored and Benfica did just that, some of the counter-attacks sliced through the Arsenal defence like a hot knife through butter.
Isaias dominated the midfield but floundered in the English game with Coventry whilst Sergei Yuran’s time at Millwall was the stuff of legends. And not good ones, more noted for his ability to party than anything which he produced on the pitch. Stefan Schwarz came to Arsenal whilst Jonas Thern and Rui Costa were no slouches. Benfica were a decent side but overly-romanticised by the English press.
There can be few complaints about the defeat. Indeed, arguably it did George Graham the world of good with rewards earned in 1993-94s Cup Winners Cup campaign. Sven Goran Eriksson called it correctly post-match when he noted that Benfica had the technique to overcome Arsenal’s endeavour. For Arsenal at the time, it was a huge disappointment once more in Europe.