Arsenal’s Thursday night Europa League fixture against Rennes was billed as a huge game in Brittany, with club officials saying they could have sold out Roazhon Park three times over. When the two teams walked out of the tunnel, it was indeed apparent that this was a massive deal for Rennes, with their fans creating a sensational atmosphere.
For Arsenal, it was obviously a big game, too, but their approach to winning would be following a professional and clinical blueprint instead of the emotional one Rennes were banking on to get something out of the game. When Alex Iwobi’s third-minute cross-cum-shot alluded everyone but the inside of the post to give the Gunners the lead, it looked like Unai Emery’s men would stroll to victory.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) March 7, 2019
For minutes after that, the Gunners found acres of space in the opposition’s box as they favoured the left side. Every time Arsenal ventured forward, they opened up the Rennes defence and went close time and time again. It all looked too much for Rennes to deal with until Sokratis mistimed a challenge on Hatem Ben Arfa that led to the Greek defender’s first yellow card. Just seven minutes later, Sokratis would clash with Ismaila Sarr with the winger through on goal and earn himself a second yellow.
The 30-year-old defender marched off down the tunnel, and by the time he had got to the changing room, Rennes had scored from the free kick he had given away, prompting wild celebrations from the home faithful. Benjamin Bourigeaud’s initial effort was blocked by the wall, but he followed it up to level matters with the most venomous volley you are likely to see on a football pitch this season.
Rennes would add another two in the second half thanks to a Nacho Monreal own goal and eventually run out 3-1 winners, which naturally left Unai Emery rueing Sokratis’ red card given that, up until he was sent off, it looked like Arsenal would rack up a cricket score.
Apart from the pros at betconnect, who called it from the off in their top football tips by correctly predicting that Rennes were prepared to shock Arsenal, very few would have seen this coming. All the Gunners can hope now is that a two-goal deficit won’t be fatal when the two teams meet at the Emirates.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 8, 2019
An away goal could still prove to be the key for Emery’s men as a two-nil win in London will suffice to go through, but they have made it unnecessarily tricky for themselves. Keeping their discipline will also be crucial as this is the second game in a row that Arsenal have had a man red carded after Lucas Torreira was sent off in the 1-1 draw with Spurs.
The Gunners will have to be rather expansive if they don’t find the net early doors at the Emirates, and if they do, then Rennes have the players to exploit open spaces and take advantage of a free-flowing game. It seems on the back of their display against Rennes that Arsenal found a way to lose. The only option now is finding a win, and handsomely at that, with Hatem Ben Arfa and Co. ready to arrive at the Emirates intent on delivering the knockout blow.