Arsenal vs Rennes preview: Gunners seek to overturn two-goal deficit
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Last Updated: 14/03/19 11:20am
Arsenal must overturn a two-goal deficit when they host Rennes in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie on Thursday (kick-off 8pm).
Alex Iwobi's third-minute strike at Roazhon Park had given Unai Emery's men the perfect start, but things began to unravel after Sokratis Papastathopoulos' first-half dismissal.
Benjamin Bourigeaud's thunderous finish, a Nacho Monreal own goal and Ismaila Sarr's late header secured a 3-1 win for the French side, leaving the Gunners with plenty of work to do ahead of the second leg.
But they received a boost after Alexandre Lacazette's UEFA ban was reduced to two matches following his sending off against BATE Borisov.
Lacazette was initially handed a three-match suspension for swinging an elbow in frustration towards Aleksandar Filipovic in the last-32 first-leg loss.
The France international served the first of those games in the second leg against the Belarusian side before missing the away tie with Rennes, meaning he is available for the return match at the Emirates.
Speaking on Wednesday, Emery played down the notion that his side remain favourites to progress.
"I don't think about that," he said. "I only want to play the best possible match, doing all we can, with each player and the team.
"In the first 90 minutes, they beat us and tomorrow, we will want to show here it can be different, but with a big respect to them and also knowing we need all the players with the focus and to control our emotions and control the different situations and scenarios that can come in the 90 minutes.
"We are very demanding on ourselves. We need to be together and create a big atmosphere with our supporters to help us. We need to play with high emotion, but take clear decisions and try to control the 90 minutes."
Rennes made three changes for their Ligue 1 home fixture against Caen at the weekend, and Julien Stephan's side ran out 3-1 winners again - even having the luxury of substituting Hatem Ben Arfa and Adrien Hunou with plenty of time remaining.
Ben Arfa will be eager to impress on his return to England against a manager under whom he found himself out of favour during his time at Paris Saint-Germain.
The Frenchman said following the first leg: "My motivation was to play a solid match, to win and get ourselves into a good position to go through.
"That's what was in my head. But I did see the same Emery, as agitated as ever. I looked over at him a few times and that made me laugh a little. He hasn't changed."
With Sokratis suspended, Emery must decide on whether to play a back four or use Granit Xhaka in a more defensive position as part of a back three.
Emery is likely to field Lacazette after having his ban reduced, but midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be assessed after a mild back strain ruled him out of the victory over Manchester United.
Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding (both knee) and Danny Welbeck (ankle) remain long-term absentees, but Emery has an otherwise fully-fit squad.
Rennes right-back Romain Danze and midfielder Rafik Guitane remain unavailable through injury but there are no fresh concerns for the French side.
- Rennes will be the 10th different French team that Arsenal have faced in all European competition - the Gunners have beaten each of the previous nine French sides they've met.
- Arsenal have never lost an away game against French opposition (W8 D5 L0). Their only two defeats suffered in France in competitive games came in the 1995 Cup Winners Cup final vs Real Zaragoza and the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona.
- Rennes will be hosting an English side for only the second time in their history, and for the first time since July 2001 when they beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the first leg of their Intertoto Cup semi-final encounter.
- This is the sixteenth successive campaign in which Arsenal have reached the last 16 of a major European competition, a run that began in 2003-04. The Gunners reached this stage of the Champions League 14 times between 2004 and 2017, whilst also appearing in the Europa League last 16 last season.
- Rennes striker Ismalia Sarr has been directly involved in five goals in the Europa League this season (three goals, two assists); more than any other player for the French side.
It was a good clean sheet and performance against Manchester United.
I was questioning the goalkeeper with an inconsistent defence in front of him but he has been excellent in recent weeks. Leno is quite bold and tries to play out from the back. He blocks with the boot rather than his hands a lot of the time but it works very well for him. He will make mistakes but who doesn't? Arsenal have signed a top-class goalkeeper I feel.
Play the same system and I expect Arsenal to go through. The away goal they scored in France will prove to be crucial in my opinion.