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Late Aubameyang goal steers Arsenal through in Europa League

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored late to steer Arsenal into the last 16 of the Europa League with a 3-2 win over Benfica on Thursday.

Arsenal had to come from behind to advance 4-3 on aggregate, while Napoli was knocked out despite beating Granada 2-1 in the second leg. Granada advanced 3-2 on aggregate.

Aubameyang scored twice for Arsenal, including the decisive 87th-minute winner just as the Gunners were poised to go out on the away goals rule despite playing both games abroad due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, second right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the Europa League second leg soccer match between Arsenal and Benfica at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

The teams played the second leg in Athens while the first leg ended 1-1 in Rome after Benfica’s home game was relocated from Portugal.

Aubameyang opened the scoring in the 21st, finishing clinically after Bukayo Saka played him through.

Diogo Gonçalves equalized with a perfectly placed free kick inside the top left corner in the 43rd.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, second right, jumps for a header with Benfica's Jan Vertonghen during the Europa League round of 32, second leg, soccer match between Arsenal and Benfica at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

Aubameyang thought he’d scored again early in the second half but a VAR review confirmed he was just offside for Martin Ødegaard’s through ball.

A mistake from Dani Ceballos gifted Benfica its second goal after an Arsenal corner in the 61st. Benfica goalkeeper Helton Leite produced a long kick out that Ceballos tried heading back to his own goalkeeper, but only inadvertently laid it off for Rafa Silva, who rounded Bernd Leno before finishing into the empty net.

It was just the Portuguese team’s second effort on target on the night.

Napoli's Matteo Politano, right, and Granada's German vie for the ball during the Europa League, round of 32, return match between Napoli and Granada, at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Alessandro GarofaloLaPresse via AP)

But left back Kieran Tierney replied with a strike inside the far post in the 67th after showing good composure to elude a Benfica defender, and Aubameyang completed the turnaround with a close-range header to the 19-year-old Saka’s cross.

This time, the VAR check was in Arsenal’s favor.

Ajax progressed with a 2-1 win over Lille (4-2 on aggregate), Rangers cruised through with a 5-2 win over Belgian team Antwerp (9-5), Shakhtar Donetsk beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0 (3-0), Villarreal defeated Salzburg 2-1 (4-1), and Norwegian team Molde left it late to seal a 2-0 win (5-3) over Hoffenheim in Germany.

Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal kicks a ball during warmup before the Europa League round of 32, second leg, soccer match between Manchester United and Real Sociedad at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP PhotoDave Thompson)

Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan and Roma were among the teams playing later Thursday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Leverkusen's managing director of sport Rudi Voller before the Europa League round of 32, 2nd leg soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Young Boys Bern in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Ina FassbenderPool via AP)

Villareal's Gerard Moreno, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal from the penalty spot during the Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Villarreal and RB Salzburg at the Ceramica stadium in Villarreal, Spain, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP PhotoAlberto Saiz)

Bayer Leverkusen players stretch during a warm up before the Europa League round of 32, 2nd leg soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Young Boys Bern in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Ina FassbenderPool via AP)

Villareal's Gerard Moreno, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal from the penalty spot during the Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Villarreal and RB Salzburg at the Ceramica stadium in Villarreal, Spain, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP PhotoAlberto Saiz)

Royal Antwerp's Buta collides with Rangers' Glen Kamara, right, during their Europa League soccer match at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday Feb. 25, 2021. (Andrew MilliganPA via AP)