How does Unai Emery overturn the Rennes second leg?
Background photo: Ed g2s, CC BY-SA 3.0
Arsenal put in a dire performance in their Europa League Round of 16 first leg against Stade Rennais. Losing 3-1 in France means they have work to do at the Emirates. It will be difficult, but the Ligue 1 side's leaky defence can be exploited.
Gunners fans expect Champions League football. The Europa League represents one way to earn that status. On the weekend, they responded to the defeat by dominating Manchester United to claim fourth place in the Premier League. No guarantee exists that they will keep it. The Premier League's competitiveness is too unpredictable. It's best to keep both options open as long as possible.
Dropping Mesut Ozil is the first decision that must be made. He’s not happy with the Emery regime. His displeasure shows in his performance. It’s been especially evident in the Europa League. The former German international can’t claim inexperience after playing in the Champions League with Werder Bremen, Real Madrid and, of course, Arsenal in the past. Maybe he feels the secondary competition is below him. The 30-year-old was lacklustre throughout his five appearances in competition; certainly not the creative player of his early Arsenal days.
Rennes sit eighth in Ligue 1. Hatem Ben Arfa remains a dangerous attacking player but the defence behind him struggles to intercept balls or trap opponents offside. Man-marking, tackling and clearing are all they do. They do it even more away from home. Damien da Silva and Mexer combine for more than 10 clearances per 90 on the road.
Arsenal needs to be fluid in their passing to frustrate the opposition, limit their chances to defend. One or two touches are the maxim. Spend relatively little time on the ball as individuals, omit egos, and work as a rapid attacking spirit.
Denis Suarez won the Europa League with Emery at Sevilla. The Spanish tactician should play him. His 86% passing rate across all competitions suggests he can keep the attack ticking for 90 minutes.
It's also a game for Granit Xhaka. The Swiss rarely loses possession. He'll be emboldened by the swerving strike that wrong-footed David de Gea on Sunday. His determination and desire will pay dividends.
Either Alex Iwobi or Aaron Ramsey can complete the midfield trio. Emery must decide whether he prefers pace or guile. Whoever he selects, Emery should load the midfield. Rennes' last three defeats came against teams that stuff the centre ground. Thomas Tuchel sent out five midfielders for Paris Saint-Germain, as did Stade Reims and Guingamp.
Arsenal suffers its own defensive woes. Sokratis is out. Laurent Koscielny is an unknown quantity, muddling triumph with tragedy. The Gunners conceded three last time out but wholesale change should be resisted. Consistency comes with regular minutes. Ainsley Maitland-Niles deserves to build on his standout performance against United.
Stade Rennais doubled down on their first leg victory, beating Caen by the same score but two goals and a clean sheet would do it for Arsenal on the away goals rule. It’s to score quickly and build from there. Should the fans get behind them, they will be buoyed and have all the potential to reverse the tie. It's not an impossible task.