Arsenal Up To The Mask

Online Ed: Unai Emery’s side beat Rennes 3-0 to make Europa last eight

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It was a tense evening at the Emirates as Arsenal successfully found the balance between going forward to score the goals required and critically keeping a clean sheet against Rennes, backed by an impressive 5,000 travelling fans. The 3-1 first leg deficit was overturned as the Gunners won 3-0, although extra time loomed if the visitors managed to score, although with the stadium emptying out by the full time whistle, many would not have witnessed it. As it was the crowd was probably in the mid 40,000 mark, although compared with other European nights this season, it was respectable. And made plenty of noise.

Unai Emery selected a similar starting eleven to that which defeated Manchester United at the weekend. The suspended Sokratis was replaced by Mustafi, and as usual in Europe, Petr Cech played in goal. A word for the defence. They played well as a unit, especially operating a very tight offside line which was rarely breached. At times, the linesman at the North Bank end seemed like their 12th man (and in the first half, he failed to spot Aubameyang as offside in the build-up to the second goal). In front of the back five, there were moments of carelessness, with the ball being lost at times when it wasn’t necessary, Xhaka, Ramsey and Ozil the chief culprits, but the team was not punished.

The first two goals came in the opening 15 minutes, which calmed nerves a lot. The opening one was a result of good play by Maitland-Niles and Ramsey, finished off nicely with Aubameyang converting from close range. The second saw the latter pull Ramsey’s ball back from the line for Maitland-Niles to head home. Aside from his contributions to the two goals, the right wing-back had a good game overall, and seems to have cemented his place in the five at the back formation as long as Hector Bellerin remains on the treatment table.

At 2-0, Rennes came into the game and for the remainder of the first half had more possession and spent long periods in Arsenal territory. Emery’s side weathered the storm, and after the interval the game was more even, with Rennes trying to score the goal that would put them back in the driving seat, and the Gunners being more aggressive, without recklessness, trying to secure the third goal that would at least mean a Rennes strike would not eliminate them.

Rennes did hit the post, which was the closest they came. There were plenty of hairy moments which were fortunately quashed by the offside flag. Lacazette and Ozil were removed and the new arrivals (Iwobi and Mkhitaryan) provided a bit of required fresh zip. Aubameyang scored his second of the evening to make it 3-0 and went in search of a Black Panther mask someone had placed for him behind the electronic advertising boards. Of course he has history for this kind of goal celebration. I figure the use of a prop in goal celebrations is a bookable offence because the striker was yellow carded by the referee. Let’s hope that doesn't haunt the team later in the competition. Aubameyang could not play in last season’s Europa League because he had played for Dortmund in the Champions League, and they ended up in the Europa League by finishing third in their group.

Things should have been made more comfortable, given Aubameyang had two further gilt-edged opportunities. God alone knows how he failed to convert the second of them, far easier than the chance he had for this first goal. Maybe he was thinking where his mask was. Fortunately, it didn’t cost.

What the match demonstrated was how Emery’s tactical knowhow addressed the problem of Rennes’ danger men. The formation crowded them out, especially wide, and there was a determined effort to prevent crosses. There wasn’t an excess of forward pressing, because the team were conscious of not leaving gaps at the back. It was enlightening that the side could nullify Rennes much of the time even with Mesut Ozil on the pitch. He was a body, an option to pass to, but had limited impact last night. It didn’t cost, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Mkhitaryan is selected ahead of him after the international break.

So a pleasing night’s work, and progress to the last eight, where there are some potentially difficult opponents. We await the draw at midday, with the hope that people are not given the wrong information and end up booking travel they can’t use. On one note though, perhaps the switch was a blessing in disguise. Were the second leg held in Rennes last night, anyone trying to travel back to the UK via Eurostar from Paris would have had to queue for three hours to get through customs at Gare du Nord due to industrial action, and several trains have had to be cancelled as a consequence.

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  1. itsRonagain2

    Mar 18, 2019, 16:02 #113454

    Valencia s been a very good player but too old now of course. I think those rumours are just from an agent hawking his clients name about and the media chewing on it while there s nothing else to write about. Peter, apart from the very top clubs, nobody is into spending big sums these days on players. I think there is the start of a certain sobriety getting back into the markets at at long last now. AFC wont be spending enormous fees for sure and without Chelsea and MC doing it, there's little to trigger chains of transfers either. Apart from Real Madrid and MU not many will be out throwing cheques about too much this Summer.

  2. peter wain

    Mar 18, 2019, 13:35 #113453

    It is difficult to believe that we are linked to a 33 year old Manc cast off. Do not people remember the last 33 year old we got from them. Also this years free transfer has been a complete waste of space. As for linking Maitland Niles and Nelson with Crystal Palace clearly someone has taken leave of their senses. We must buy quality not ageing rubbish and the point of the transfer window is to strengthen the squad not weaken it. If Kroenke will not provide the money then he should sell and we will get some one who will invest in our club.

  3. John F

    Mar 16, 2019, 21:55 #113452

    Very impressed with Wolves tonight it could be a place where Arsenal could drop points.They look very well organized defensively and look good going forward.Hopefully the cup will be a distraction for them and Watford when Arsenal play them.

  4. KC38

    Mar 16, 2019, 08:47 #113451

    Two great wins two clean sheets a good week. If Emery can replace certain individuals in the summer and make us professional defensively we have a good chance to really push on. Good to see in both games not being suckers to counter attacks.


    Mar 15, 2019, 19:34 #113450

    But isn't Auba a prat? Gets an unnecessary booking for that stupid mask stunt & then manages to miss 2 golden chances to make things safe. Totally his fault that the last 15 minutes were edgy. He is a proper athlete which Ramsey, despite having a "great engine" etc. isn't & I, for one, won't miss him. So I hope Dick will knock the immaturity bit out of him & make him more clinical - not holding my breath though as he is a good example of the over-hyped modern footballer who won't ever achieve his full potential - imo he could be exceptional if he ever gets his head right. Undeniably a very nice guy though!!

  6. mbg

    Mar 15, 2019, 19:23 #113449

    A great heading, i think the early goal helped us immensely and gave us that extra confidence then when the second arrived it was on, a great turnaround well played everyone. This should give us great confidence to push on now in this comp and the League, no more cock ups or relasps now please, still a lot of work to do but we're certainly on the right track. Come on you gooners come on Unai.

  7. GoonerRon

    Mar 15, 2019, 17:11 #113448

    Another fast start that gave us the platform to control the game. Again, plenty of hunger and desire in the team which is a big part of all fans want to see. Koscielny very assured again and I wonder if Ramsey’s two very mature performances in a deeper role is making Emery feel rueful. However, my MOTM was AM-N who seems to have gone to a new level in the last game and a half. @ Exiled - I hear you about Ainsley playing in midfield, however I think he’s got a great opportunity to knuckle down and play virtually every week for the next 6-9 months as a RWB/RB. He’s got time on his side to force his way in as a first choice in a more congested part of the squad, but surely for now learning the professional game and building his experience up in defence is preferable for his development.

  8. Exiled in Pt

    Mar 15, 2019, 16:10 #113447

    Great win and fancy our chances against Napoli , especially as some seem to be talking about a Chelski Napoli final !!! Long way to go but so much better than the last how many years ........... Ainsley i honestly believe could go on to be a future club captain and potential to do the same at International level... Would love to see him have a run in the middle in his proper position...

  9. itsRonagain2

    Mar 15, 2019, 15:39 #113446

    it was a great win wasn't it. Dare i say it but the team is starting to look like a side with courage again, a concept unknown under AW for many a long year. It wasn't technically great (who cares) and we looked edgy and defensively iffy in the last 15 mins but job done. Emery will address the defensive shortcomings in the Summer i hope but how good to see AFC showing some balls again after so long being eunuchs. Napoli will be far tougher though.

  10. The Man From UNCLE

    Mar 15, 2019, 12:13 #113445

    I went up last night, good atmosphere from both sets of fans, over the two legs we were certainly the better side, gotta start getting results away though. So it's Napoli in the QF then. Maitland-Niles continues to impress; surely an England international before too much longer. Up the gunners.

  11. Paulo75

    Mar 15, 2019, 10:58 #113444

    A clinical if not hugely impressive performance. Job done, up the Arsenal. Bonus seeing Sevilla knocked out last night aswell. Some decent teams still left in the mix.