Arsenal’s Europa League hopes suffer big blow as home crowd roar Rennes to victory

Alex Iwobi scored an early goal for Arsenal but things went downhill after that. Picture: MIKE EGERT

Alex Iwobi scored an early goal for Arsenal but things went downhill after that. Picture: MIKE EGERTON/PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Ten man Arsenal lost 3-1 to a fired-up Rennes in a fevered atmosphere in France on Thursday evening to leave their Europa League hopes hanging by a thread.

An early Alex Iwobi goal was cancelled out by a superlative strike from Benjamin Bourigeaud after Sokratis was sent off for bringing down Ismalla Sarr on the edge of the area.

To cap a bad night for the Gunners a Nacho Monreal own goal made it 2-1 before an emphatic Sarr header sealed the victory in front of a passionate, sell-out crowd.

On the drive into Rennes is a sign that said the region is the place to come for communications.

Arsenal certainly got their message across in the early stages in deepest Brittany on Thursday evening in the first leg of their last 16 tie with Stade Rennais after Iwobi put the Gunners ahead with only 240 seconds on the clock.

The Nigerian international’s right-footed curling shot evaded home keeper Tomas Koubek’s outstretched dive to nestle low into the far left-hand corner of the net – as the febrile atmosphere dropped substantially with the realisation Emery’s men had grabbed an important away goal.

However, despite Emery fielding a strong Arsenal side hoping to make the second leg an exhibition match, the initial positive message was lost on a dramatic evening.

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Emery started with a back four of Shkodran Mustafi on the right with Sokratis and captain Laurent Koscielny in the centre and Nacho Monreal on the left.

Creative talents Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both started alongside Lucas Torreira and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Yet despite conceding an early goal the home fans were exceptional in their unstinting support for their heroes. The noise levels were matched with a mesmerising ‘pyro’ display as a number of bright red flares were lit behind Koubek’s goal in the first half, creating quite a spectacle.

Petr Cech, who was afforded a warm welcome by Rennes supporters before the match having played for them before signing for Chelsea in 2004, kept out a Hatem Ben Arfa free-kick midway through the first half.

Ben Arfa, the former Newcastle man, is now 31 and while showing glimpses of the rare talent and technique he still possesses was not as effective as his skill levels demanded. Plus ca change as they say. Or we thought.

The match was turned on its head in matter of seconds in the 41st minute when Sokratis received his second yellow card from referee Ivan Kruzliak for hauling down Sarr on the edge of the box.

From the resulting rebound Bourigeaud fired home an exquisite shot which beat a despairing Cech all ends up to level before the interval – sending the already fevered home support into raptures.

Sarr could have put Rennes ahead with moments remaining of a frenzied opening 45 minutes but his side-footed shot went the wrong side of the post for the Roazhon outfit.

Emery instructed Mustafi to become the right-sided centre-half in Sokratis’ enforced absence while Mkhitaryan dropped deeper to perform right-back duties as Arsenal regrouped.

Surprisingly given Emery’s penchant for changing formation and personnel during the break the plan remained the same with Mkhitaryan still performing duties at right-back, albeit in a slightly advanced position.

Iwobi patrolled the Gunners right flank until he was replaced by Matteo Guendouzi early in the second half as Ben Arfa grew in influence.

The home side went ahead when a shot from right back Medhi Zeffane flew into the net past Cech via a slight deflection from Monreal on 64 minutes as the PA blasted out Depeche Mode’s I Just Can’t Get Enough.

It had to be said not many teams can turn around a match in such dramatic fashion as Arsenal. Albeit not in the way fans would like.

Credit had also to go to Rennes 12th man the fans who boosted the team with deafening support throughout as they were unstinting in producing an impressive wall of sound in a crowd of 29,71 including 1,348 from Arsenal.

Shortly afterwards Bourigeaud was replaced by James Lee Silliki to an ear-splitting ovation as Rennes fans at the Roazhon hailed his display. What a performance it was from the 25-year-old Calais born attacker.

Worse was to come for the Gunners with Sarr’s late goal to make it 3-1 to cap a miserable evening for Emery and Arsenal.