We’ve been saying for a while that Arsenal’s current stretch of games — away to Tottenham, away to Rennes, home to Manchester United, home to Rennes — would likely determine the outcome of the Gunners’ season. Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Tottenham kicked things down the line and put even more importance on Sunday’s match against United. But first Arsenal face Stade Rennais (Rennes) in a tricky Europa League away leg.
Rennes currently sit 10th in Ligue 1 which at first glance is not all that intimidating. But Les Rouges et Noirs (Red and Blacks) put on an impressive display in the Round of 32, winning 3-1 on the road in the second leg to knock off Real Betis 6-4 on aggregate. For those of you keeping track at home, that means the first leg was 3-3. Rennes can bang in the goals, which could be problematic for an Arsenal side that has looked defensively suspect for large swaths of the season. And it’s not as if the Gunners’ first leg performance against BATE Borisov inspires confidence. Remember, Arsenal lost 1-0.
Rennes are led by a familiar face in Hatem Ben Arfa and a 21-year old Senegalese striker named Ismaïla Sarr. Sarr has been linked to Arsenal a few times this season, and according to SkySports, the French press reported in January that the Gunners have a “strong interest” in the youngster.
There’s an Arsenal - Rennes connection on the other end of the footballing age spectrum as well. Petr Čech played his first two club seasons outside of his native Czech Republic for the French club. The keeper has tweeted several times since the draw about the match and seems to look back fondly on his time in the northwest of France. A local French newspaper wrote a glowing piece about “The Return of a Legend” filled with complimentary quotes from former teammates and club officials.
Pour le plaisir... @PetrCech ! ✨— Ligue 1 Conforama (@Ligue1Conforama) February 21, 2019
Durant 2 saisons au @staderennais, il a fait vivre l'enfer aux attaquants de @Ligue1Conforama. Le plus célèbre des gardiens tchèques prendra sa retraite en fin de saison. pic.twitter.com/V3sKZ3LXcZ
For the first time in a while, Arsenal have no short-term injuries heading into a match. Alexandre Lacazette is suspended for both legs of the Round of 16, so Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be leading the line. Expect Lucas Torreira to start as his 3-match ban in the Premier League was upheld. As much as he may want to, Unai Emery cannot really afford to rest players ahead of Sunday’s match with Manchester United. Arsenal need a result.
The Gunners will be facing a well-rested Rennes side. Ligue 1 rescheduled their weekend match with Nimes to give them longer to prepare for Arsenal. Les Rouges et Noirs will likely be without backup striker Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu, who was born in Washington, D.C. and received but declined a call-up to the USMNT last year keeping himself eligible to play for the U.S., France, and Cameroon. They will also be missing frequent attacking sub James Lea Siliki. Rennes’ most important absence by far will be starting right back Hamari Traore, who will miss out due to suspension.
Arsenal have never played a competitive match against Stade Rennais. Isn’t the Europa League fun?
WHAT: Arsenal at Stade Rennais F.C.
WHERE: Roazhon Park, Rennes, France
WHEN: Thursday, March 7th 9:55 AM PT | 12:55 PM ET | 6:55 PM CET
US TV: In Spanish on Galavision. Streaming on B/R Live ($$$).
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