After a frustrating draw in the North London derby, Unai Emery’s Arsenal travel to mid table French outfit Rennes as they look to make their mark on the tournament.
Much of the season has been a guessing game of which Rennes side would turn up for any given fixture, they sit slap bang in the middle of the Ligue 1 table. Their form has been relatively strong recently, they just progressed to the French Cup semi-final and prior to a defeat at Reims they won three on the bounce, which included excellent results against Lille and St Etienne.
Their clash with Betis was the highlight of the last round of the Europa League, a mental first leg finished 3-3 in France as the hosts led 2-0 and 3-1 before a 90th minute equaliser gave them a real task in the second leg as Betis headed home with three away goals. But the French side went to Spain and blew Betis away, they led 2-0 after half an hour. They endured a tense second half in which they defended valiantly and buried the game late on as M’Baye Niang secured qualification to the next round.
It’s been a season of mediocrity other than their European run. Rennes have taken 37 points from a potential 78 in Ligue 1, they have scored 35 goals and conceded 34. However Arsenal would be foolish to underestimate them, they’ve already shown what they’re capable of.
Rennes will be keen to get at Arsenal and make sure that they’re taking something to the Emirates for the reverse fixture, the hosts are the outsiders for the contest at a price of 3.75, double chance has good value at 1.73 as well.
Unai Emery shared a love affair with the Europa League during his time at Sevilla, winning it in three consecutive seasons, he values this trophy and will have instilled that in to his Arsenal team, particularly with their lacklustre league campaign as well as their exits from both the Fa Cup and Carabao Cup. With Manchester United now above them in the league as well, winning the Europa League may have moved up Arsenal’s list of priorities.
The first season after the Wenger era was always going to be about transition, and if you compare it to when Fergie left United, Arsenal are making a good job of it. Emery has got the players to adopt his football philosophy and he’s got the best out of some Arsenal players who had struggled in previous seasons.
Arsenal have leaked goals all season, except in the Europa League where they have kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven. If they can nick a goal in this first leg you fancy them to capitalise back at the Emirates. An Arsenal win to nil is what they’ll be after, which is priced at 3.5.
The biggest absentee from this first leg is Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman has been in fine form this season, and his partnership with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has blossomed under Emery, Danny Welbeck is out so Aubameyang will lead the line alone. His support will come in the form of Mkhitaryan and Iwobi with Mesut Ozil pushing to start in the number 10 role. Lucas Torreira will anchor the midfield with Granit Xhaka, as his domestic suspension doesn’t start until the weekend.
Rennes have a plethora of injuries, despite having their league game postponed on Sunday to prepare for Thursday’s tie they could be left with up to five first team players unavailable. Hamari Traore and Ludovic Baal will be big misses, Bensebaini will continue at full back, he scored in the away win at Betis last time out. Benjamin Andre is back in central midfield which gives Clement Grenier more creative freedom, the midfield technician will look to use the pace Rennes have in wide areas through M’Baye Niang and Ismaila Sarr who will cause the Arsenal fullbacks problems.
Rennes main goal threat lies with the enigmatic Hatem Ben-Arfa. On his day, capable if quite sublime moments, which we caught sight of in his spell with Newcastle United. He’ll play up top and is the bookies favourite from the hosts to score, priced at 3.75 anytime and 9.0 first.
Rennes draw no bet @ 2.75
Under 2.5 goals @ 1.85
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to score anytime @2.1