Arsenal ‘host’ Benfica in Athens tonight in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-32 clash. Having worn their dark blue change kit in Rome last week, the Gunners are in their traditional strip with the Portuguese side in their black second kit.
Up until a decade ago, such a meeting would have necessitated another change in that the away side would have had to have an alternative sponsor’s logo – Arsenal were in such a situation against Hamburg in 2006 and Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain experienced it twice (see link on right). However, while things will be relatively straightforward, past Arsenal-Benfica meeting have thrown up some quirky hit happenings.
In the summer of 1971, the clubs met in a friendly at Highbury, having clashed shortly before that in Lisbon. We don’t know which kits were used in the first meeting but, at the time, Benfica’s change strip merely involved swapping a red shirt for a white one, with the white shorts and red socks from the first kit remaining.
Referee Norman Burtenshaw felt that such an outfit was too similar to the Arsenal home and so Benfica borrowed Arsenal’s away socks for an unusual look. Arsenal won 6-2 and the kits proved the least of Mr Burtenshaw’s worries as he was jostled and hounded by irate Benfica players after they felt one of the Arsenal goals was offside.
It would be 20 years before the sides would meet again, this time with a place in the inaugural European Cup group stage (late the Champions League at stake). In this 1991-92 campaign, Uefa had reintroduced the rule that home teams should change in the event of a colour-clash and so Benfica were clad in all-white at Estádio da Luz as the sides drew 1-1.
Two weeks later, they were in red shirts at Highbury – as Portuguese champions, their left sleeve featured the national crest, as in 1971; nowadays, teams have it on their chests.
That meant Arsenal were in the ‘bruised banana’ shirts, as in their 6-1 home win over Austria Vienna in the previous round, this time with long sleeves used. In the first leg, Arsenal’s shirts had the ‘League Champions 1990-91’ scroll underneath the crest, but here it was absent.
While Arsenal went ahead through Colin Pates, a Benfica equaliser saw the tie go to extra time, in which the visitors won 3-1. Arsenal will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself – thankfully for the Gunners, they have had more joy wearing change kits at home in recent years.