Arsenal 3 – 0 Rennes
Arsenal broke their 56-year hoodoo and overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit to progress to the next round in European competition. A return to the Champions League is still open on two fronts. Woohoo! Provided we get past Napoli, of course.
It was ‘job done’ inside the opening fifteen minutes. Aubameyang struck early, Maitland-Niles doubled that lead after a blistering start. The tie ended prematurely, descending into a niggling slog before Aubameyang rendered away goals irrelevant.
Emery’s desire to attack down the flank. Kolasinac on the left and Maitland-Niles opposite, both provided a threat Rennes struggled to contain all evening. That all three goals came from wide positions underlined the importance of energetic wing-backs.
A spell in the second-half where Rennes, hitting the post courtesy of a typical Mustafi brainfart, were on top. However, the linesman’s flag seemed permanently raised for offside, such was the French club’s naivety in attack and a well-drilled defence.
In that respect, we played well; Cech made a couple of smart saves but by then French heads were largely lost as their plan to progress through Arsenal being reduced to ten men wasn’t working. The referee was poor, even by the Premier League’s low standards.
At one point, Ben Arfa stared at Unai Emery. The Spaniard seemed impervious but inside was surely screaming “You want to know why I didn’t play you? This, you worthless gilipolla, is why; you are only fit for a small Ligue 2 side. Tonight shows even Ligue Un is above your ability.”
Or something similar. It was still 2 – 0 at this point.
Aubamyang’s second saw him booked for the celebration and not because the mask called Ben Arfa a ‘Wakanda’, either. On unnecessary bookings, Xhaka misses the first leg of the Napoli tie.
Unai Emery was delighted after a “very difficult week” and so he should be; consecutive clean sheets in two key matches which go a long way to deciding our season’s fate.
He was more pleased by the manner in which the players grasp tactical changes in a match:
I think we were playing and being very competitive. The clean sheet is important and gives us confidence with some players scoring, different players, and also using different systems. We started with 3-4-1-2 and finished 3-4-3. When we were defensively together, we were playing with a 5-2-1-2 or 5-4-1 in the last minutes with Micki and Iwobi. I think we can play and can change each match with the players we have, with the system we have, while continuing to be effective.Unai Emery is our flexible friend
It left us with a route to Baku via Napoli and the winner of Villarreal vs Valencia. The latter you would expect but in this competition, who knows?
Napoli’s form isn’t too dissimilar to our own but they will be happy with UEFA’s divvy ruling about fans in the same city. They pulled the same stroke with Manchester United; gone are the days when the Met could cope with more than one visiting team to the capital on a matchday, eh?
It’s a tough draw and I genuinely think only Chelsea could be a tougher opponent and we’ve avoided them until the final. But does anyone not think we’re capable of winning? I suppose the question is, will we?
We’ll need to improve in the away leg but at home, summoning the spirit of Spurs and United is certainly the answer.