Arsenal (2) 3 Rennes (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Round of 16, Second Leg
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 14th March 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Ramsey, Xhaka; Kolašinac, Özil, Lacazette; Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Iwobi, Leno, Suárez, Guendouzi, Nketiah
Scorers: Aubameyang (2), Maitland-Niles
Yellow Card: Kolašinac, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan
Referee: Andris Treimanis (Latvia)
Attendance: circa 50,000
And so, finally, our Europa League challenge continues in style. And who would have thought it two weeks ago? Somehow, we have lifted ourselves up, propelled ourselves into the quarter-finals of the Europa League, and, even better than that, we are knocking on the door of third position in the Premiership. Wow. And in March as well!
Right from the kick-off, Arsenal showed intent and determination to right that wrong of last week in France. Just five minutes into the match, not only did we grab the moment to push ourselves into the lead, but it was how we did it became paramount. Ainsley Maitland-Niles received a lovely backheeled pass from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who in turn slotted it to Aaron Ramsey who whipped a cross in for the man who started the slick movement underway, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to score easily from close range. There’s nothing like a goal early on in the game to liven things up a bit, so Arsenal came forward again and again until the Rennes defence simply gave way, like water rushing through a breached dam.
We do love our controversies here at Arsenal, so the second goal simply underlined the fact. In a move reminiscent of the horrific 1932 FA Cup Final incident against Newcastle United, the wonderful Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang crossed the ball (when many thought it was over the byline, but TV proved it wasn’t) for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to move, almost ghost-like around the back of the Rennes defenders to head a powerful goal into the net for our second of the night, and the most important, as this one equalised the score over the two legs. Funnily enough, from this point until the half-time break, we become rather scrappy and at times looked quite lacklustre; but the good news was that we did get to half-time two-up, and more importantly we didn’t leak any unnecessary goals in the thirty-minute period from the second goal being scored to the ref’s whistle to signify the start of the break.
The second half saw some heartstopping moments with M’Baye Niang hitting the post with a thunderous shot, along with some rather tasty tackles being implemented by both sides. Four players on both sides were booked, and it seemed a matter of time before someone would receive the dreaded red card; thankfully it was not to be, as cool heads prevailed, and Mr. Emery bought on Lucas Torreira, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi for Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette deep into the half. These inspired substitutions completely invigorated Arsenal, and we now were confident, ascendant and dominant. Around fifteen minutes from the end, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the final goal that placed us into Friday’s quarter-final draw. Fresh legs are always important at this stage of the match, and the pace of Henrikh Mkhitaryan certainly made all the difference here. After some lovely passing movements between Sead Kolašinac and himself, a low cross found the hero of the night, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who stabbed it into the back of the net with some aplomb for the third and final goal of the night; he celebrated in unique style courtesy of a Black Panther mask, which is also the emblem of Gabon, his home country.
A magnificent performance by all players, who finally understood the importance not only of this competition, but how critical Arsenal is to the people who really count, the paying spectators in The Emirates Stadium. Our next match is on April Fools’ Day here in North London against Newcastle United; could this be the match that pushes us into third place in the Premiership? It’s all to play for now, chaps. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.