Stade Rennais FC scored a famous 3-1 win over Arsenal FC in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Last 16 tie to give themselves the edge ahead of next week's return in London.
Thursday, 7 March 2019
UEFA Europa League, round of 16 1st leg
Roazhon Park, Rennes
Stade Rennais FC 3-1 Arsenal FC
Arsenal arrived at Roazhon Park on the back of a sapping north London derby with Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, while Rennes had not played for eight days. Not that you could tell as the hosts looked sluggish before Alex Iwobi quickly put the visitors in front.
Whether the Arsenal man meant to bend an effort into the far corner of the goal or was merely trying to cross is open to debate, but there was no doubt the ball ended up in the bottom corner of Tomas Koubek's net (4').
For an Arsenal side that had never lost an away tie to a French club on 13 previous occasions, it was the ideal start, and marked a happy return to the ground where the Gunners' boss, Unai Emery, had visited while in charge of Paris Saint-Germain.
But for Koubek, Lucas Torreira would have quickly added a second (12'), but the Czech parried the shot before he watched Shkodran Mustafi fire just wide as Rennes lived on their wits (31').
At the opposite end, Petr Cech, who had been given a warm welcome by the Rennes fans who watched him in the colours of their club between 2002 and 2004, pushed away a Hatem ben Arfa shot (35') before the game and potentially the whole tie turned.
Booked earlier, Arsenal centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulous hauled back Ismaïla Sarr, and was given his marching orders (41'); with the whole second half to come, Rennes had a man advantage.
Julien Stéphen's side ensured they used it from the resulting free-kick, though it would not have mattered how many men Arsenal had on the pitch, they would not have prevented Benjamin Bourigeaud's searing half-volley from crashing into the net to equalise (42'), an opportunity — ironically — teed up by Bourigeaud's poor initial attempt rebounding invitingly to him off the defensive wall.
Sarr might have given Rennes a half-time lead but stumbled onto his chance (45'), though he would make up for that with a stunning second-half display in which he gave Nacho Monreal a night to forget.
That Cech was the other star man tells its own story. The iconic goalkeeper, who will retire at the end of the season, kept Rennes at bay, frustrating his ex-club notably by pawing aside a Ben Arfa free-kick (62') before he was beaten by Monreal, who unwittingly directed Mehdi Zeffane's cross into his own goal (65').
Mesut Özil should have done better than fire weakly at Koubek (68'), but Rennes were dominant, and a blistering counter-attack led to substitute James Lea Siliki sending over the perfect cross for Sarr to bullet a header beyond Cech (88') and give the Bretons real hope of a first-ever European quarter-final berth when they go to London on Thursday.
THE PLAYER: Ismaïla Sarr
The 21-year-old youngster's potential has never been in doubt, but with a fourth goal in eight games, he is now delivering on it. Monreal will not want to see him again.
THE STAT: 19
Rennes tallied 19 attempts on goal, eight of which were on target.