Arsenal remain in Europe after comeback against Rennes
'Black Panther' Aubameyang scores two as Gunners overturn first leg defeat
14 March, 2019 — By Richard Osley
UEFA Europa League
Round of 16
ARSENAL 3 (Aubameyang 5, 72, Maitland-Niles 15)
ARE we gong to still be in Europe, or are we about to depart? Tough questions, it seems, for anyone to call right now but for Arsenal there was a clear vote for remaining in the Europa League this evening.
And they are staying in for the quarter-finals at least, and maybe more, thanks to a quickfire start against Rennes which wiped out a starting deficit foolishly amassed in France last week.
Within 15 minutes, the visitors’ 3-1 advantage from the first encounter had gone as Arsenal expelled any concerns about the scale of the task ahead of them with goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The ease in which they were able to thread the ball to Aubameyang and get ahead within the first five months simply underlined what a surprise last week’s result really was.
Rennes, eighth in Ligue 1 and here on a big night out with flags and flares, were weak opposition. They were unfortunate an offside was not flagged in the build-up to Maitland-Niles’ header – there was no VAR in operation at the stadium – but you always had the impression from the enthusiastic nature in which Arsenal approached this tie that the goals they needed would’ve come sooner or later.
Winning the tournament may still be Arsenal’s best chance of qualifying for the upgrade of the Champions League next season, with a clutch of deceptively difficult away matches in the final Premier League run-in ahead and four teams effectively racing each other for only two spots. An exit against this level of opposition in the Europa League would have been sobering to say the least.
The key question was perhaps not if they could score enough goals to haul back Rennes, and more if they could keep clean sheet. Apart from some blustery runs into the box, the French side never really finding the net.
There is always a chance of mindless penalty being conceded or a lucky deflection serving as a sucker punch, however, so Arsenal were still living on a wire until Aubameyang’s tap-in 20 minutes from the end. The team had by then been pepped up by the energy of sub Henrik h Mkitarayan, who had a hand in setting up this clinical third.
Aubameyang, in celebration, disappeared behind the goal, pulled out a Black Panther mask and posed for the cameras. And maybe he was still thinking about how this caper looked when he uncharacteristically missed two close range chances in the minutes which followed.
A hat-trick passed up, it didn’t matter, Aubameyang, who was cup tied in this competition last season, was in party mood.
It seems a long way away now – both in time and distance – but Gunners fans will hope he gets the chance to bring it out another mask for the final in Baku in May. It would serve as some way of noting a patchy but ultimately positive first season for Unai Emery.
“I think we were playing and being very competitive,” the manager said afterwards. “A clean sheet is important and gives us confidence with some players scoring, and some different players, and also using different systems.”
He did not want to comment on the theatrics with the mask but praised Aubameyang for weighing in with two goals and assist.
ARSENAL: Cech, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Monreal, Koscileny, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Ramsey (Torreira 87), Ozil (Mkhitaryan 70), Aubameyang, Lacazette (Iwobi 70)
SUBS NOT USED: Guendouzi, Leno, Nketiah, Suarez
RENNES: Koubek, Traore, Bensebaini, Mexer, Da Silva, Bourigeaud, Sarr, Andre (Lea 78), Grenier (Hunou 70), Ben Arfa, Niang
SUBS NOT USED: del Castillo, Badiashile, Doumbia, Gelin, Zeffane