It started out so well. Alex Iwobi put Arsenal in front of host Rennes just three minutes into the match with a cross-shot that bounced in off the back post. Arsenal had a few half chances to extend their lead but couldn’t make anything of them. Their biggest chance came when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked to be in on goal but was flagged (probably incorrectly) for offside. And then the wheels came off.
Sokratis picked up a deserved yellow in the 34th minute, committed a silly foul a few minutes later, and then was shown a second yellow in the 41st minute. The second yellow was soft to be sure, but if Sokratis doesn’t commit a dumb, unnecessary foul just after getting a yellow, does he get sent off? Maybe not.
Benjamin Bourigeaud put the ensuing free kick into the wall, but because the Gunners in the wall had all turned their backs, when the rebound came right back to him, nobody was in position to defend. He hit a screamer into the top corner to level the match. It was a stunning strike, really.
Down to 10 and protecting a 1-1 scoreline away, you’d think Arsenal would pack it in, make a defensive sub or maybe even two at the half, and play for the second leg at home. Nope. The Gunners came out with little perceptible change to the formation (other than Henrikh Mkhitaryan at right back...) and were far too open.
Unai Emery did substitute Matteo Guendouzi for Alex Iwobi a few minutes into the half after the winger got beat two times in quick succession. It was reactionary rather than tactical.
Rennes took the lead in the 65th minute when Nacho Monreal deflected a cross past Petr Cech for an own goal. The cross came in because the entirety of the Arsenal defense stopped running, apparently assuming the ball was going out for a goal kick. It did not come close to going out, and guys were left scrambling to get back into position.
It was not Monreal’s finest match. Especially after Arsenal went down to 10, he was repeatedly exposed and beaten for pace down the wing.
Aaron Ramsey came on for Mesut Özil in the 70th minute but wasn’t really able to make much of an impact on the match. He ended up leading the Arsenal line after Sead Kolasinac replaced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was dreadful on the night.
Had the match ended 2-1, Arsenal would have had a good shot at advancing. But in the 88th minute, for some inexplicable reason, the Gunners committed numbers forward on a throw in. Rennes countered and scored what could be a tie-deciding third goal. Why Arsenal had so many men forward in that situation is a mystery. Additionally, Nacho Monreal and Matteo Guendouzi made pathetic attempts at recovery runs. Ramsey, who started further up the pitch, came closest to being able to make a play.
Arsenal are fortunate to only be missing Sokratis and Alexandre Lacazette (still suspended for his straight red against BATE Borisov) for the return leg at the Emirates. Late on and on a yellow, Granit Xhaka was whistled for a crunching tackle that easily could have merited a second yellow. It was utterly unnecessary too.
There is little positive to say about today’s match. If Petr Cech hadn’t had his best match for the club in a long time, Arsenal would be heading back to the Emirates next week with virtually no shot at advancing in the Europa League. They’re still in a bad spot, but they do have an away goal.
The next two matches decide the season. And the Gunners head into Sunday’s critical league match at home to red-hot Manchester United on legs that played down a man for more than half a match. Whee!