After the latest round of Europa League matches, we are now down to the last eight and contrary to what many people believed possible, Arsenal are still in the tournament, very much in the running for a first-ever Europa League crown.
The Gunners had stuttered in the first leg, falling to a 3-1 defeat to Stade Rennes with a lifeless performance, leading many to write off their chances of qualification.
However, the Londoners followed that setback up with arguably their best all-round performance under Emery as they posted a 2-0 victory over Manchester United at the weekend in the EPL to hand Ole Gunner Solskjaer his first Premier League loss as Manchester United boss.
They used the momentum gotten from that morale-boosting victory to post another impressive result on Thursday night, defeating Rennes 3-0 to progress to the quarterfinals.
In the process, Arsenal became only the second club in Europa League history to overturn a first leg 3-1 defeat after fellow Londoners Fulham did so against Juventus during the course of the 2009/2010 season.
With their season having been restored back on track after earlier wobbles, Arsenal can start to believe they can go two better than their semifinal appearance last season. In this piece, we shall be taking a look at three factors which made Arsenal progress at the expense of Rennes.
#1 Aubameyang forever
Ever since completing his club record arrival to Arsenal in January of last year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been nothing short of exceptional.
The Gabonese international has scored 32 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions since arriving in England, which goes in stark contrast to fellow big-money arrivals in the same timeframe.
The 29-year-old had established himself as one of the premier strikers in the world with his performances for Dortmund in the Bundesliga and against Rennes, he was at his imperious best.
It took him just five minutes to open the scoring and ten minutes later, he turned provider as it was off his cross that Ainsley Maitland-Niles scored Arsenal’s second.
The mask loving Aubameyang scored Arsenal’s third in the 72nd minute and he fittingly celebrated by putting on a Wakanda forever themed mask to the admiration of loving fans around the world.
Arsenal would be fancying their chances of going all the way in this tournament and as Aubameyang showed last night, he would have a huge role to play if they are to achieve this.
#2 Rennes’ continuous attacking
Stade Rennais came into the second leg fixture holding a 3-1 victory and the manner in which they won the first leg at the Roazhon Park had the Ligue 1 side believing they could complete the business at The Emirates.
Led by the unplayable Ibrahim Sarr, Rennes totally bossed proceedings in the first leg to make matters very difficult for their hosts.
The margin of victory meant that ‘The Red and Blacks’ had a little leeway, but that was cancelled barely five minutes in when Aubameyang put Arsenal ahead.
Just ten minutes later, Maitland Niles put The Gunners 2-0 up on the night, levelling the tie but giving the home side the edge by virtue of away goals.
Just like that, the visitors’ advantage was taken away and this made scoring an away goal an utmost priority.
At that point, it looked like Arsenal would blitz Rennes away, but kudos to the French side, as they rallied from their early setback to seize the initiative and control proceedings.
Despite their dearth in quality (compared to Arsenal), Julien Stephan continued urging his men to attack and his side responded, dominating proceedings for large spells of the game and ratting Arsenal (even though they did not get the goal their displays deserved).
Rennes had a total of six shots, with M’baye Niang hitting the post, while they also had 48% of the possession, as well as more corners than Arsenal, which were indicative of their attacking forays during the match.
While Rennes deserve praise for their bravery in taking the game to Arsenal, their constant forays forward left large swathes of spaces behind and it is from these that Aubameyang was able to capitalize and score the all important third goal.
#3 Their superior firepower
Even though they might be the subject of online bants and social media jibes by rival fans, the truth is that Arsenal is still among the biggest clubs in Europe, occupying a space reserved for only the upper echelons in world football.
Given – they might be some way off the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester City and the likes when it comes to quality, but the bottom line is that there are very few clubs in Europe who can boast of having better players than Arsenal (you can literally count them with both sets of fingers – go ahead, try it).Advertisement
Players like Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Lacazette, Petr Cech, Henrikh Mkhitaryan but to name a few are all top class seasoned international players of the highest level who can break into almost any team in Europe.
By contrast, Rennes players are largely unknown quantities (with all due respect) and are nowhere being near the levels of their Arsenal counterparts.
To put this in perspective, Rennes’s best player up till his point – Ibrahim Sarr is being linked with a transfer to Arsenal next summer and if the move pulls through is undoubtedly going to be a step up in the Guinean’s career trajectory.
Although football might be a beautiful game with lots of upsets, the truth is that such upsets are rarities and more often than not, the team with the higher quality sails through and on the night, Arsenal’s superior quality shone bright and aided in their qualification to the quarterfinals.