EUROPA LEAGUE: Arsenal v Rennes PREVIEW
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Read Gunners reporter Layth Yousif’s in-depth Arsenal v Rennes preview.
Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have a late fitness test before Thursday’s Europa League last-16 second-leg match against Rennes.
The Armenian midfielder missed Sunday’s league win over Manchester United with a back injury but trained on Wednesday.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery has been handed a big boost with the news that striker Alexandre Lacazette will be able to face Rennes in the second leg of the Europa League round of 16 tie at the Emirates today, Thursday.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery said the return of Lacazette will boost his side’s chances of winning through.
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“We all know how important Alex is to us as a group,” said the former PSG boss.
“The more players we have available the better it is because we do have some quality players, particularly in midfield and up top. Hopefully we will be able to make that danger pay.
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“Let’s just hope that Lacazette can help us to achieve the result on Thursday.”
With the Gunners bidding to overturn a 3-1 defeat in the first leg in deepest Brittany last week Emery needs all the firepower he can muster to turn the tie around against Julien Stephan’s side.
Stephan told the Islington Gazette after the match in Rennes that his side needed to score ‘one or two goals in London’ to ensure progression to the next round.
However, with Lacazette having missed out in the second leg of the Borisov clash and the loss at Roazhon Park last week, Arsenal received good news after their appeal reduced the suspension to only two games.
Former Lyon attacker Lacazette was slapped with a three-match ban following a straight red card during Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat away at BATE Borisov during their last-32 first leg meeting.
Ahead of the match Emery is calling for fans to get behind the side during the crucial match. Home fans were excellent during the 2-0 victory over Manchester United on Sunday with the Spaniard calling for more of the same against Rennes.
He said: “I want to say thank to you to our supporters because they helped us a lot and we can create a big atmosphere like yesterday for the next matches. It’s very important.”
Despite Lacazette’s return, Arsenal will be without defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos who was sent of following two yellow cards during the first leg against Rennes when the Gunners were leading 1-0 through at early Alex Iwobi goal.
The 25-year-old Calais-born Benjamin Bouriegeaud fired home a rebound from the resulting free-kick to level the scores before a Nacho Monreal own goal and an 88th minute strike from Ismailia Sarr who was superb on the evening put Emery’s chance of landing the trophy he won three times in a row with Sevilla in serious doubt.
“I think in terms of the game last week it was a very different game until the red card to Sokratis,” added Emery.
“I think we were in control of the match and we’d obviously taken an early lead, but the red card did change things and Rennes were able to take advantage of things.”
“With that being said, we do have confidence that we’re going to give a very big performance tomorrow and go through to the next round.”
With the Gunners having a free weekend due to their game at Wolves being postponed as they play Manchester United in the FA Cup sixth round, Arsenal face Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Brighton at home following the international break.
All three matches give the home side the chance to pick up maximum points in the race for a top four spot - but for now, all eyes are on turning around the two goal deficit against Rennes in order to reach the last eight of the Europa League.
It remains a tough task however. Since the inception of the Europa League in 2009-10, only one side has progressed to the following round after losing 3-1 in the first leg of a knockout tie, Fulham, when they beat Juventus 4-1 in a memorable tie at Craven Cottage after losing 3-1 in Turin.
Arsenal have only progressed three times from 18 matches after losing the first leg of a European tie: Hajduk Split in the 1978-79 Uefa Cup, Porto in 2009-10 Champions League, and last month against Bate Borisov in the last round.
However, Rennes boss Julien is cautious, telling the Gazette last week in Rennes after the match: “Arsenal are favourites if you look at their histroy and players. To progress we will need to score at least once, if not twice.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter and Instagram @laythy29 for live updates from the crucial match.