Arsenal will look to overturn a first-leg deficit when they host Rennes in the Europa League Round of 16. Rennes claimed a 3-1 lead last week to the surprise of many, and Unai Emery’s side faces a daunting task ahead of them to overcome that.
Alex Iwobi gave the Gunners an early lead in Rennes, but goals from Benjamin Bourigeaud, Ismalia Sarr and an own goal from Nacho Monreal gave them the advantage. Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ red card changed the complexion of the game, and he is suspended. On the bright side, Arsenal have done this before. BATE Borisov also defeated them in the first leg, but they won 3-0 at the Emirates to make it to the next round.
Arsenal claimed a confidence-boosting 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday. The win pushed them into the top four, which is where they want to be at the end of the season. Winning the Europa League could also be a path, and Emery will want to have his hand in both pots.
Rennes are in a strong position, and they will hope to complete the job in London. This campaign is already the most successful one in their 117-year history. Their group stage exploits were remarkable as well, as they recovered from three successive defeats to make the knockout stage.
They won 3-1 against Caen at the weekend, which puts them in the eighth position in the Ligue 1 table. Rennes are unbeaten in their last five games, and their confidence is indeed on the up. Even a defeat could send them through on Thursday, but their record in knockouts is encouraging. They have lost only one of their last seven European knockout games. That loss was a 1-0 one to FC Twente in 2008.
Arsenal vs Rennes Match Preview
In terms of team news, Arsenal were handed a significant boost in attack. Alexandre Lacazette’s suspension was reduced, and he will be eligible to play against Rennes. The Frenchman could start with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the attack, just as they lined up against Manchester United.
Sokratis is banned, and Laurent Koscielny is injured, which means that changes are needed in defence. Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be pushing for a start, and Emery could give it to both of them as attacking inputs vital in the situation. For Rennes, Hamari Traore and James Lea Siliki could make a return to the side.
Aside from first leg, Arsenal and Rennes have never met before, but they do have some history. Rennes winger Hatem Ben Arfa played for Emery at PSG, and their relationship is frosty, to say the least. Aubameyang and Lacazette have both played in the Ligue 1, so they are familiar with the opposition to some extent.
Arsenal did it before against BATE, and they can pull it off again to progress on the away goals rule. Their attacking firepower should be too much for Rennes to handle, and defensively they should be able to shut up shop. An away goal could change things considerably, but Bernd Leno’s form can make a difference.