Arsenal set to face Benfica in neutral venue for BOTH legs of Europa League clash unless Government make rule change

UEFA have confirmed that Arsenal and Benfica must agree on neutral venues for both legs of their Europa League last 16 clash – unless the Government lifts its “red list” of countries by next Monday.

European chiefs have now issued specific regulations covering the knock-out phases of their two competitions, which begin later this month.

But with the border restrictions for the 33 red list nations – which include Portugal – having no exemptions for elite sports, Benfica’s travelling party would have to begin their 10-day hotel quarantine in the UK by Sunday.

That is infeasible, while Arsenal would also have to go into Government-approved accommodation for 10 days from February 25 after the away leg of the tie.

But while Uefa state that “as a rule, matches are played at the UEFA approved venue of the home club” there is dispensation for change where “restrictions imposed by the national/local authorities could result in the match not taking place as scheduled”.

The deadline for confirming whether Arsenal can host the tie, or is 11pm next Monday.

Uefa ruled that Arsenal are under obligation to “propose a suitable alternative venue which may be in a neutral country” within Uefa where the match can “take place without any restrictions for both clubs”.

If Arsenal cannot do that – the Gunners are responsible for covering all the costs of the rescheduled game – they would “be held responsible” and forfeit the game 3-0.

But with similar border restrictions facing the Gunners after the away leg, Uefa also make the same demands on Benfica for the second part of the tie.

Germany has already been proposed as a potential venue after the knock-out phase of last season’s Europa League was played there last summer.

Uefa would prefer the chosen venue to be a “Uefa-approved” stadium being used in this season’s competition.

Euro chiefs can overrule the clubs’ choice of stadium and could, if necessary, order the tie to be played as a one-off game in a neutral venue of their choosing.

Uefa chiefs have also reiterated Covid protocols for clubs in the two competitions that are struck by an outbreak of the virus.

If clubs have 13 or more players available, the match must be played as scheduled – unless all goalkeepers on the club’s books are ruled out.

If a club has fewer than 13 available, or no keepers, Uefa will allow a postponement if the match can then be rescheduled before specific cut-off dates for each round, with March 5 the first Europa League deadline and April 2 the final date for the last 16 ties of both competitions.

The club deemed liable for the match not being played will forfeit 3-0.

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