FOOTBALL

EUROPA LEAGUE: Aubameyang secures Arsenal’s safety despite shockers

Arsenal are through to the quarter-finals of the Europa league after dispatching Rennes 3-0 following a mediocre first leg in France.

The Gunners overturned a 3-1 deficit to be outright winners at 4-3, despite Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang squandering two chances late on in the tie.

The Gabonese striker needn’t worry about those misses, as it was his two goals (as well as Ainsley Maitland-Niles’) that saved Arsenal from an embarrassing exit.

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Report

Arsenal’s first was intricately worked, as Maitland-Niles burst in from the right-hand side to feed Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey, who had a simple job to square the ball to Aubameyang who tapped in from close range with just five minutes gone.

Seemingly stunned, Rennes conceded again 10 minutes later, when Maitland-Niles latched onto Aubameyang’s cross and headed into the ground.

This gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead into half-time, and they were dominating the play, with the immobility of Benjamin Andre, Clement Grenier and Hatem Ben Arfa allowing Arsenal time and space in the centre. This magnetised the Rennes players, meaning the wingers could find space, and deliver lethal balls into the box.

Arsenal’s third was simply beautiful football.

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan (fresh on after replacing Ozil) ran across/through the Rennes midfield, using Aubameyang and Ramsey as 1-2 outlets.

The Armenian then passed it through to Sead Kolasinac who, whilst steaming down the left wing, delivered an inch-perfect cross with precision to Aubameyang, who tucked it away.

The Gabonese hero struck a pose to celebrate the goal in typical Aubameyang fashion – wearing a Black Panther mask and donning the Wakanda salute.

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After, it was a carnival of gamesmanship, and as a result, Andris Treimanis (referee), gave out a flurry of yellow cards.

Aubameyang – on fine form if his prior goal-scoring exploits are anything to go by was then put through, however, the forward slid his shot narrowly past the post.

Not even a minute later he fluffed his lines once again, after finding himself centrally in the box, unmarked, goal beckoning, any clean connection would’ve surely resulted in a goal, but the ball tumbled over his boot. He’s still awaiting a hat-trick for Arsenal.

Arsenal are just the second side to overcome a 3-1 first leg defecit in the Europa League – the first coming in 2010, when Fulham stunned Italian powerhouses Juventus at Craven Cottage, winning 4-1.

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Tactics

In the first leg, Arsenal were humbled after Sokratis
Papastathopoulos was red-carded, leaving them to play the majority of the game with 10 players and as a result they succumbed to Rennes.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery kept his five-at-the-back formation, and played Kolasinac and Maitland Niles as marauding full-backs, getting forward whenever they could.

This gave Arsenal the advantage, as their opposite numbers (Ismaila Sarr and Benjamin Bourigeaud) had to call upon centre-midfielders Grenier and Andre to provide them with cover, which allowed Ozil to get in the gaps and delicately play through the lines and dictate.

Quotes

After the match, Emery said to BT Sport:

We – defensively – needed to be so strong, and we didn’t concede chances because of this.

Then we needed to attack in the final third and deliver, and we did that.

The 3-0 result is good for us, and the chance to get four was there, but we needed to be calmer and confident.

We’re very proud of the supporters and the players.

What next?

Arsenal next face Newcastle in just over two weeks time, but a trip to the Molineux to face Wolves may be on the cards sometime after the game was postponed due to Wolves’ FA Cup run.

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