Arsenal faces an uphill task at the Emirates, needing to score at least two goals without conceding any for a place in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.
Arsenal are hoping the team finds its best form when Rennes visit for the second leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 clash. The French side lead the tie with an impressive 3-1 victory, courtesy of a Sokratis red card in the first half. As soon as the defender was dismissed, Rennes took full advantage of the extra man and scored three goals after.
There is optimism in the Gunners’ camp following their impressive win over Manchester United to reclaim the fourth spot in the Premier League. With the next piece of action not coming until April 1st, Unai Emery is expected to use the best of his squad and hope they deliver when it really matters.
Rennes are currently sitting on their most successful European journey in about 117 years. The French side have never appeared at this stage of the competition, but bowing out at this stage with a solid lead to would not be crossing their minds right now. The French side will give their best to defend against Arsenal’s more prolific attackers.
Rennes have also shown character in away games this season, as the Round of 32 showed what they are capable of. Rennes came to Spain on the back of a 3-3 draw in Brittany and beat Real Betis 3-1 on their territory. Will they be able to show such resilience against an Arsenal side who are on a 9-game winning streak (league) at the Emirates?
Team News & Tactics
Heading into the crucial encounter with Rennes, Arsenal have received a boost with Alexandre Lacazette’s availability. The Frenchman was initially suspended for three games, which would have ended with the Rennes clash at the Emirates. UEFA decided to reduce his sentence to two games, meaning he will be available for Thursday.
Sokratis, however, will miss this game with a suspension following his red card in the first leg. Other than him, Arsenal’s player of the month, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is a doubt for this clash as he is yet to recover from a back strain, although a late fitness test is on the cards to determine his place in the side.
Then there are the long term absentees, but barring them, Arsenal have no other problems in the side and Emery will be able to name his best lineup. We could see a repeat of last weekend’s attacking list consisting of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lacazette. Alex Iwobi and Lucas Torreira will also push for a spot in the starting lineup.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1) – Cech; Maitland-Niles, Koscielny, Monreal, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Ozil, Ramsey, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Rennes come into this game with no new injuries and suspensions, but they might find themselves in an unusual territory as the side are not used to playing in the competition. Only players like Hatem Ben-Arfa and M’Baye Niang are somewhat experienced playing on English soil, but it certainly could be an entertaining game considering both sides will be near full strength.
Rennes will have Hamari Traore back in the team after he served his mandatory suspension and is expected to take over from Mehdi Zeffane at right-back. James Lea Siliki is also likely to be back in the side after recovering from an injury. Additionally, Benjamin Andre, who sat out the win over Caen at the weekend is also expected in the team in place of Stephan.
As for the team, the manager will look to keep the same shape as in the first leg, although the returning stars are expected to make the team much stronger for the challenge that awaits at the Emirates.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2) – Koubek; Traore, Silva, Mexer, Bensebaini; Sarr, Andre, Grenier, Bourigeaud; Ben Arfa, Hunou
- Since the inception of the Europa League in 2009-10, only one side has progressed to the following round after losing 3-1 in the first leg of a knockout tie – though it was an English team (Fulham vs. Juventus in 2009-10; 1-3 away, 4-1 home).
- Including qualifiers, Rennes have only lost one of their last seven UEFA Cup/Europa League knockout matches (W5 D1).
- Of the 18 previous times, it has happened, Arsenal have progressed from just three ties in major European competition after losing the first leg of a knockout match.
- Excluding own goals, Arsenal have had more different scorers than any other side in this season’s Europa League (11).
- Ismaila Sarr has been directly involved in six Europa League goals for Rennes this season, the most of any player at the club (four goals, two assists).
Player To Watch
The French striker has been in a good moment with the team lately. He is not getting on the scoresheet as much as he’d want, but it’s his all-around play that is catching the eye. Lacazette has been instrumental lately in getting the Arsenal side to attack by freeing up other players to score, namely Ramsey against Spurs and Xhaka against United.
With the striker now back in the side following the reduction of his ban, he should take the chance to become the hero for Arsenal against Rennes. The Gunners need him to be at his best and help them overcome a 3-1 deficit to qualify for the next round. Will we see Lacazette score or provide in the attack against Rennes and complete the job for Arsenal? Only time will tell.
Arsenal 3-0 Rennes
The Gunners are behind in the tie, after Rennes’ 3-1 victory in the first leg. Back then Arsenal suffered due to Sokratis’ red card and being a man down. But at the Emirates, the game would be different as Arsenal have been a different gravy this season at home. Unai Emery’s men can take inspiration from the last few games against the big sides and make sure they cross over the line.
The only area of concern could be the absence of Sokratis, without whom the team suffered last time out, but expect the Gunners to continue their recent fine form defensively and the goals are more likely to come from the home side. The Hard Tackle is predicting another stirring comeback, with Arsenal progressing to the next round.