Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stars as Arsenal complete the comeback to reach quarter-final in feisty battle with Rennes

Sam Dean
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring the 3rd Arsenal goal with Sead Kolasinac during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Arsenal and Stade Rennais - Arsenal FC

Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

The time for Arsenal to marvel at this latest stirring performance was in the 72nd minute, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, their goalscorer supreme, dipped his hand behind an advertising hoarding and pulled out the mask he had tried and failed to wear on Sunday.

Four days after his strike against Manchester United, when he could not locate the mask he had hidden behind the goal, Aubameyang scored again — twice — and finally assumed the role of the Black Panther who had mauled the Rennes defence. “I needed a mask which represents me and that’s the Black Panther,” he said, and frankly you could see what he means.

Aubameyang is all stealth and speed, prowling around on the shoulders of the opposition defence with a sleek, feline menace. He is lethal, too, which helps when his team are in need of a superhero to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit and keep alive their Europa League ambitions.

Aubameyang’s goals, either side of an Ainsley Maitland-Niles header, ensured this was to be another memorable night in a season that is becoming more encouraging by the week for Unai Emery and a group of players for whom everything seems to be coming together.

It truly is full steam ahead now, with Arsenal’s two-pronged assault on qualification for next season’s Champions League continuing to gather serious momentum. They are into the top four in the Premier League and now into the last eight of the Europa League, a competition which Emery has long since made his own, thanks to this thrilling and incisive victory at the Emirates.

All six English teams are now into the quarter-finals of their respective European competitions. It is quite the indicator of the depth of the Premier League, and the quality of the Arsenal attack here will be enough to petrify any team in Europe, let alone those remaining in the Europa League. “We can feel the possibility to win a title,” said Emery. “Playing under pressure is good.”

As they did on Sunday against Manchester United, Arsenal responded well to the magnitude of the occasion. The stakes have been raised this week, and so have Arsenal’s performances. They struck twice in the opening 15 minutes here, blitzing a Rennes side that barely knew what had hit them, and then added a deserved third deep into the second half.

The only element of luck about this victory was their second goal, finished by Maitland-Niles after more good work by Aubameyang. There was a clear offside in the build-up, adding to a list of injustices which Rennes feel they have been dealt over the course of this tie. First the locations of the two legs were switched to avoid Arsenal’s match clashing with Chelsea, and then Alexandre Lacazette’s suspension was reduced in time for the Frenchman to play here.

“There were a few elements against us,” said Julien Stephan, the Rennes manager, who also described the Maitland-Niles goal as a “clear injustice.” There was an acceptance, though, that Arsenal were the better side. “We were up against Champions League quality,” Stephan conceded.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores the team's third goal  Credit: AFP

The smoke from the flares in the away end was still drifting across the Emirates when Arsenal struck the first blow of the night. Maitland-Niles and Aaron Ramsey combined down the right before Aubameyang darted across the six-yard box to tap home Ramsey’s cross.

Rennes were stunned by the opener, their defensive gameplan blown apart by the speed of the Arsenal attack. And almost before they had time to catch their breath, Maitland-Niles had powered the second into the back of their net. The flag stayed down as Aubameyang slid down the left, crossing for Maitland-Niles who was arriving at full speed at the back post.

The two-goal lead was enough to send Arsenal through, but it was precarious. It certainly felt that way a few minutes into the second half, when M’Baye Niang’s low strike deflected onto Petr Cech’s post after Shkodran Mustafi had surrendered possession.

Ever so gradually the visitors began to seize back control, the Emirates growing antsier with each Rennes corner or forward surge. So up stepped Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan from the bench to reassert the Arsenal dominance. Mkhitaryan found Sead Kolasinac in his favoured left-hand channel, and the cross to Aubameyang was perfect. Out came the mask, along with the smiles of relief.

Aubameyang, riding a high after that picture-friendly celebration, had two chances to end it for good, but prodded wide and then slid a scuffed finish past the post. The nerves remained right until the end, but Arsenal clung on and Arsenal march on.

Player ratings

Arsenal (3-4-1-2):

Cech 6; Mustafi 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Maitland-Niles 7, Ramsey 7 (Torreira 87), Xhaka 7, Kolasinac 7; Ozil 6 (Mkhitaryan 69); Lacazette 6 (Iwobi 69), Aubameyang 8

Subs: Leno, Suarez, Guendouzi, Nketiah

Booked: Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang

Rennes (4-4-2):

Koubek 6; Traore 5, Da Silva 6, Mexer 5, Bensebaini 5; Sarr 6, Andre 5 (Lea Siliki 79), Grenier 6 (Hunou 70), Bourigeaud 5; Ben Arfa 6, Niang 5

Subs: Badiashile, Zeffane, Doumbia, Del Castillo, Gelin

Booked: Mexer, Grenier, Bourigeaud, Traore

10:25PM

Unai Emery

I'm going to try really hard to transcribe Emery here but he speaks incredibly quick broken English. Here we go!

Good evening yeh but after 3-1 there is normal we need 90 minutes with being competitive, we need to be defensively strong. To be clever with the last action to score I think we did that, the result 3-0 is good for us, we can chances for the fourth goal more calm more confidence for the result and also they can score 1-1 they can take but we can we won very proud of supporter we work well difficult matches, I think we can be happy.

Yes but away there also is was going the goalkeeper alone Aubameyang is wasn't offside. The referee can't do mistake there and the balance is there one for one one for another.

It's a very big experience play with result come back here at home, we were very competitive but with the ball we can do better. We can play easier and play with more control. I am very proud like they worked today.

I want to be very happy with the players, supporters and after the draw is coming like he want for me is perfect.

I mean I understand what he's saying but the way he's saying it is all over the place. Like when you tpye wrods ni hte wrngo roder nad stlil knwo whta I'm typnig.

10:16PM

The notes of pundits

pundits notes

This is great. Jake has a detailed, printed and colour coded script, Keown has two A4 pages of neatly written notes, Hartson has scrawled single words diagonally across his book.

Hartson notes 2

 

10:03PM

Aubameyang post-match

I missed two chances I should have scored but OK.

I needed a mask that could represent me, Black Panther. I'm really happy tonight for him (Maitland-Niles) because Arsenal should be proud of having young players like this from the youth team and he's playing so well.

9:57PM

FULL TIME

Arsenal are through! Mustafi does his best at the end to give Rennes a final chance with a dreadful bit of defending but the referee blows his whistle and it's over. The comeback has been completed but judging by this performance, how did it ever look difficult?

9:56PM

90 mins+5 - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

Oooooh Iwobi should be off here. He's kicked out at Hamari then starts holding his nose as if to imply he smells. The Rennes fans can be seen hurling plastic pint glasses towards the pitch.

If VAR had been in play Arsenal wouldn't have had their second goal and Iwobi might be off the pitch.

9:54PM

90 mins +3 - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

There are five minutes of added time and Niang has just hit a volley that comes off an Arsenal body. Had it not that was going in the back of the goal. Nervy times for Arsenal fan! Here comes the cavalry.... and the ball has been put straight out for a throw-in. The camera cuts to the Rennes crowd and we see one lovely gentlemen being held back by his mate so he doesn't start on a guy old enough to be his dad. Football really brings people together.

9:50PM

90 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

Cech takes a whack to the face from a shot taken by a marginally offside Rennes striker. He's using a bit of experience here to heal the injury in as length a manner as possible, taking the clock to just short of 89 minutes. 

Rennes have about three strikers, two wingers and no midfielders at the moment. They can't keep up pressure in Arsenal's half.

9:48PM

88 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

Rennes have men over but the Arsenal defence stay compact and Mkhitaryan gets it away. Ramsey brings the ball forward, Iwobi slows things down and Xhaka gives it away. 

9:45PM

85 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

The Aubameyang celebration in video form:

 

9:44PM

84 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

Aubameyang should have a hat-trick. He's played in with a smart through-ball but his first touch takes the ball too close to the goalkeeper and he stabs his shot wide. That would have sealed it. He hasn't scored an Arsenal hat-trick since moving to the Emirates.

And oh god he should have scored again. Another swift attack, Rennes' shape is stupid, Iwobi drives up the left, Ramsey takes a touch in the box then moves it on and Aubameyang has a tap in. He rushes the shot on his left foot and splaffs it wide.

9:42PM

81 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

 Another yellow card for dissent, Bourigeaud the latest to be booked.

9:38PM

78 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

 

9:37PM

77 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

Arsenal are dominating the ball, Rennes haven't been able to do much with it in this half. They're pushing three forwards high to try and force errors from the Arsenal back three but it's the midfield battle they're losing. 

9:35PM

75 mins - Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 on agg)

The referee has booked Aubameyang for that celebration. Presumably he hated Black Panther.

The thing now is that Rennes can take this game to extra-time if they score. 

9:33PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!

And that's three! Aubameyang makes it 3-0 and Arsenal should be safe now. Kolasinac gets into space on the left, pulls a low ball across the box and the Arsenal striker is there to finish. He's ridiculously good at that.

Aubameyang mask

 Aubameyang puts on a Black Panther mask to celebrate.

9:32PM

71 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

The ball drops to Iwobi for his first touch on the edge of the box, he takes it down and then pulls a shot wide of the post. Not a bad effort but he should do much better.

Iwobi shot

 

9:31PM

69 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

It's substitution time and off comes a sad looking Ozil to be replaced by Mkhitaryan.

9:27PM

66 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Rennes have a corner, win another corner, Mustafi heads it away. They keep possession, the ball is chipped to the to the corner of the box and WHAT A HIT! The Rennes midfielder strikes across it and hits the far post but it wouldn't count anyway because he's offside. 

9:23PM

63 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Credit: REUTERS

Kolasinac slides into a block  on the left to deny a scoring chance and gets a massive roar from the crowd and some high fives from his teammates.

9:20PM

60 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Play the game lads. Constant fouling all over the pitch is ruining the flow of the match. The ball is pinged from one end to another by both teams, Arsenal get Aubameyang in down the left but his cross is poor and cleared, then Rennes give it away when trying to get forward too quickly.

9:18PM

57 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Sarr crosses from the right but puts it far too close to Cech. Cech used to play for Rennes incidentally, it's where he impressed before Chelsea decided to buy him.

9:16PM

54 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

There is a red card coming in this game. So many dirty little fouls are being put in but the referee's not buying the feigned agony for now. The crowd are booing but the ref seems to be getting everything mostly right here. These Rennes boys are whinging about everything. The referee has booked someone for dissent now too. Good. 

9:11PM

51 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Ramsey does well to win the ball and spots Aubameyang sprinting into the channel, firing a hard pass ahead of him to chase. The goalkeeper comes off his line to close it but the Arsenal forward gets there first! He's wide of goal and stretching so his cross isn't great and the goalie can catch easily.

9:08PM

48 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

An early corner from Rennes is headed away but Mustafi's made a mistake outside his own box! Grenier steals it, passes inside and there's the SHOT! OFF THE POST! Cech touches it onto the frame of the goal and Arsenal get away with one. 

9:06PM

KICK OFF 2

Aaaaand we're back. Rennes start the second half knowing they have to score to go through.

9:01PM

People who dislike VAR...

Feast your eyes upon this calamity.

arsenal offside goal

That's a much better view of it. VAR makes things fair. Without that offside Aubameyang doesn't get to the ball, doesn't cross it and Maitland-Niles doesn't score.  

8:59PM

Six English teams in quarter-finals

Credit: REUTERS

The first time that's happened in 50 years apparently. That is assuming Arsenal get through of course. 

8:50PM

HALF TIME

Decent game, Arsenal in control of the tie! 

8:49PM

45 mins+3 - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

We could do with seeing some more of Ben Arfa. He can make things happen but at the moment isn't on the ball enough.

Rennes have an attack in the works, get a cross in from wide left, Monreal then boots a clearance up the pitch after a poor pass from Sarr.

8:48PM

45 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Four minutes of added time to come apparently. I think that's almost all from silly little fouls in the middle of the park.

8:45PM

43 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Monreal goes down in the box but it's never ever a penalty, Ozil joins in the attack, Rennes win it back. Xhaka is fouled but tries to catch the ball as he falls to the ground and the referee ends up giving the free-kick the other way as a result.

Both teams do not like this referee.

8:42PM

41 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Lovely move by Arsenal. Ozil has space on the right, cuts onto his left, plays a low pass to the area, Lacazette lays it off and Ramsey shoots. It's straight at the goalkeeper but would've been really nice.

Ramsey has gone down and seems to be in a bit of pain here. Kolasinac treads on his knee and he's really feeling it. Hopefully that's an impact injury and he'll be OK.

8:40PM

39 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Arsenal haven't been quite as dangerous in the opposite half since going 2-0 up but I think that's more that Rennes decided to stop pushing up so high and take a more balanced approach to the match. Early nerves maybe? The French side are chasing the game now anyway.

8:36PM

36 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

It's a good battle here. Lots of aggression, slide tackles, running, Rennes players wound up by the referee and AUMABEYANG GOES FOR A BICYCLE KICK! Ahhh he's shinned it. The ball slices off the top of his boot onto the shin and dinks out for a goal kick.

8:34PM

34 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Lacazette dives into a slide tackle and sends Andre absolutely flying. He goes "AAAAAARRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH" and is still lying on the floor now. I think Lacazette's studs plant on his standing foot and he might have rolled his ankle as a result.

The referee is getting a hard time from the Rennes players. Yellow card for Lacazette.

8:31PM

31 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Rennes players were furious with the referee there and surrounded him as Silva rolled around the floor. 

8:30PM

28 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

And here's a video of the goal:

Da Silva goes down in pain as he tries to win a header against Aubameyang... and at first look he's play acting. However, on replay, Aubameyang's studs go into the side of his body.

studs on body

 That mark came from this heel flick.

Aubameyang foul

 I suspect old fashioned centre-back retribution is imminent. Battle!

8:26PM

25 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Ben Arfa wins side a corner. Remember him? He used to be brilliant. That corner is overhit and misses everyone in the box, going straight out for a throw.

I've taken a Pro Evo style offside line to that Arsenal goal and he definitely is off.

arsenal offside

 

8:23PM

22 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg)

Arsenal are totally in control here but Rennes are up for a game and keep pushing them high up the pitch. 

8:20PM

19 mins - Arsenal 2 Rennes 0 (3-3 on agg

Monreal gets away with a really poor tackle from behind and then a Rennes player is booked for knocking into Lacazette while contesting a header. Rennes getting frustrated with the refereeing.

8:17PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!

MAITLAND-NILES SCORES! Arsenal are in charge of the tie!

Aubameyang

Aubameyang does keep the ball in play, chips to the back post and Maitland-Niles flies in to power a header past the goalkeeper. 

Rennes are absolutely furious about this. Even though Kolasinac isn't interfering and so Aubameyang should be in, Aubameyang is offside. VAR rules this goal out. Really harsh.

8:17PM

14 mins - Arsenal 1 Rennes 0 (2-3 on agg

Lacazette is just offside as another ball is played in behind the Rennes defence. Arsenal keep up the pressure, Kolasinac is offside. But Aubameyang runs in behind him and keeps the ball alive!

8:13PM

12 mins - Arsenal 1 Rennes 0 (2-3 on agg

Rennes fans enjoying themselves Credit: AP

 Arsenal are getting a lot of joy in wide areas from overlapping full-backs. Kolasinac sprints down the left, takes the pass to feet and fires a low ball into the box. It's begging to be finished but nobody's there!

8:11PM

10 mins - Arsenal 1 Rennes 0 (2-3 on agg

Another quick break from Arsenal. Rennes are leaving a lot of space behind their centre-backs because they're pushing up so high and Arsenal's quick forwards are utilising it. Aubameyang can't get a cross into Lacazette at the back post and the corner comes to nothing.

8:09PM

8 mins - Arsenal 1 Rennes 0 (2-3 on agg

Rennes are pushing high up the pitch, they don't want to give Arsenal time and possession. An early away goal would really help them out here.

8:06PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLL!

AUBAMEYANG SCORES!

Great goal. Maitland-Niles and Ramsey create this one with some clever link play on the right wing after an equally smart switch of play in the buildup. Aubameyang is in the right place to tap into the goal inside the six yard box.

8:06PM

4 mins - Arsenal 0 Rennes 0 (1-3 on agg)

Chance! A ball over the top towards Lacazette brings the goalkeeper off his line and he manages to get it away. But Arsenal are in again now!

8:05PM

3 mins - Arsenal 0 Rennes 0 (1-3 on agg)

Rennes push high up the pitch from kick-off putting a press on Arsenal. Both managers are on their feet from the start directing things. Arsenal manage to get hold of the ball soon after and get up the pitch, Ozil wants a free-kick as he's muscled off the ball but the referee says no.

8:01PM

KICK OFF!

Pretty bright atmosphere in the Emirates tonight! It's almost as if this is a big game. Arsenal start the game.

8:00PM

Rennes having great fun

 The teams are out on the pitch now, this was obviously a lot earlier. Looks like a good time.

6:58PM

Starting lineups

Hello there, it's a big night for Arsenal - can they pull it off? Emery's team has to overturn a 3-1 deficit and these are the players who will attempt to do just that: