Arsenal had to be perfect here to lift a 1: 3 deficit against Rennes in the Europa League. But that's exactly what happened: they showed their most complete performance in the Unai Emery era, winning 3-0 and reaching the quarter-finals.
Rennes is not a European royal house, but last week they were much better in France than Arsenal. Here, Emery's crew made her normal, blew her away at the start, went 2-0 up and killed her in the end. Just as against Manchester United on Sunday, Arsenal looked unified and focused, as if they had understood their plan and knew how to implement it. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang was the star with two more goals, but Aaron Ramsey, Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who play well, are far more than just strikers.
Arsenal began with such speed and purpose, proving that they had saved every last little unit of impetus that Manchester United's victory had produced here on Sunday. They flew to Rennes, came forward and got wide, and it only took them 15 minutes to hit them twice.
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Both times it came through the same three men: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, the cutting edge forward. Aaron Ramsey, who arrives where no one expects him. And Ainsley Maitland-Niles learned his position faster than anyone had expected and offered an additional threat on the right side.
The first goal came from Maitland-Niles, for Ramsey, escape from Mexer, Aubameyang for the jump-off. Too fast, too smooth. The second goal was more about quick thinking and clever approaches: Aubameyang and Ramsey made a one-two, the Rennes defense was stopped because Sead Kolasinac was on the side, but Aubameyang kept playing, catching the ball and crossing it before he did went out play. Maitland-Niles rushed in to drive home before a defender realized what had happened.
Arsenal had eliminated the away goals in that 2-0 lead, but there was still plenty of time left for Arsenal to sit and wait. They still had to push for a third, and they kept creating opportunities. Aubameyang with a volley, Ramsey had saved yet another. Alexandre Lacazette was overjoyed.
Rennes' support was wonderful, the best for years, but their players looked pretty overwhelmed and lost. They could barely put two passes together and even Hatem Ben-Arfa, one who is just about everyone else, could not make the slightest impression in the game. But with all of Arsenal's dominance, it was only goals for the break that thwarted them.
And if Arsenal had to remember that they were still on a tightrope walk, they had a hit at the start of the second half when Shkodran Mustafi threw the ball away and Mbaye Niang hit the ball from 20 yards away against the post. If that had gone in, Rennes would have gone up 4: 3, and Arsenal would have needed another to finish the extra time.
But something in the mood had changed here. Rennes had finally found foot and a way of playing to cause problems with Arsenal. They went straight and used Niang and Ismaila Sarr. Their full backs Hamari Traore and Ramy Bensebaini made their way and made problems. And Arsenal did not know how to do it.
They just needed a change, a new leg to change the energy on the court. And this energy came from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He replaced Mesut Ozil and then led with his first contribution the train, which led to the third goal of Arsenal. Mkhitaryan came in from the right, ran to the front, gave Ramsey the ball and brought him back. He lent Aubameyang the ball and got him back. He dribbled forward and slipped into Kolasinac, running his left down. His cross was delivered by Aubameyang. It was more drive and purpose than Ozil had shown all night.
Nevertheless, Arsenal still needed a goal to end the game. Twice Aubameyang had a chance for his hat-trick up close as he stabbed far back. He had to settle for two and Arsenal for three, but that was enough.
arsenal (3-4-1-2) Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil; Aubameyang, Lacazette
Rennes (4-4-2) Koulbek; Traore, Da Silva, Mexer, Bensebaini; Bourigeaud, Andre, Grenier, Sarr; Ben Arfa, Niang
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