Arsenal have it all to do if they hope to progress to the next round of the Europa League. After suffering a shock 3-1 defeat to Stade Rennes F.C in their first leg clash, The Gunners’ only hope is to win the second leg by a margin of 2 goals (or more, should the visitors add to their tally). The Emirates Stadium sounds like the perfect place to pull off such a turn around.
Arsenal’s impressive form at home continued as they delivered Man Utd a first Premier League defeat under new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This week, the team will have to play with the same tenacity if they are to have any chance of making it through the Europa League round of 16. BATE Borisov fought to a surprise win in the first leg of the previous stage in the competition only to be overwhelmed by Arsenal’s attacking prowess at home in the return fixture.
I’m sure I speak for all Arsenal fans when I say that another comfortable win at home (with 11 players on the pitch) would be welcomed with open arms, but this won’t be an easy task. You’d be a fool to write off the French Ligue 1 side after seeing what they were capable of last week.
Ismaila Sarr tormented Nacho Monreal and scored a terrific goal to finish the job for his team. It’s no wonder Barcelona have been keeping tabs on him. Hatem Ben Arfa also impressed for the home side when facing Henrikh Mkhitaryan as our makeshift right back, after Sokratis’ sending off. The ex-France international is an experienced midfielder and his intelligence both on and off the ball would have proven difficult for any seasoned right back to cope with on the night. Another player to be weary of is Clement Grenier. The 28 year old dominated with his ability to find his team mates, ending the match with a 90% pass accuracy and he’ll need to be monitored if Arsenal are to stay in control of their second leg meeting.
Now for the good news. Alexandre Lacazette is eligible to feature in the second leg tie. Arsenal lodged an appeal after the UEFA ruled the striker out for a run of 3 Europa League games and his suspension has effectively been reduced to 2 games. The first of which being Arsenal’s 3-0 win over BATE Borisov and his second match ban coinciding with last weeks 3-1 loss to Rennes. His inclusion in Thursdays fixture will be extremely important in trying to overturn a 2 goal deficit. Lucas Torreira is also available for selection, however Emery faces a difficult decision to make after Granit Xhaka’s display against Man Utd. The Swiss international is deserving of a place in the starting line up if you’d ask me and, in a game where goals are vital, his ability to influence our attacks seem like more of a priority. Having Torreira on the bench is sure to calm the nerves though, knowing how well the Uruguayan enforcer can command the midfield if Rennes start to find their rhythm. Despite the result, Petr Cech put in a decent performance in the first leg and I would be surprised (disappointed even) if Emery didn’t trust him in goal for the second leg. The veteran goalkeeper played for Rennes as a teenager and will no doubt see a victory over his former club as a special moment in his final season of professional football.
It won’t be easy, but I think The Gunners will be too much for Rennes at The Emirates. We’re going in to this game off the back of a massive victory against Man Utd and morale will be high. Emery also knows what to expect from the French side now and will surely have a game plan to prevent a repeat of our first leg mishaps. It’ll be all eyes on our defense though. Conceding just a single goal would increase the pressure and expectations on our strike force. If our attackers are able to trust the backline to hold down the fort it would allow them to play their natural game to the best of their abilities. Without too many changes to the lineup that faced United, I believe we’ll have all the ingredients for a great result. The benefit of an away goal also improves our odds and gives us a fighting chance. Having Lacazette in the mix will add significant fuel to Arsenal’s fire power and I’d expect another big performance from our no.9. We’ve beaten the odds before, under similar circumstances and we’re more than capable of doing it again.