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Rennes back to league business after Arsenal win

Publish on 08/03/2019 at 00h00 - S. WILLIS

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Stade Rennais FC will hope to reproduce their stunning UEFA Europa League form on the domestic stage when SM Caen follow Arsenal as the visitors to Roazhon Park on Sunday.

 Stade Rennais FC - SM Caen 

Julien Stéphan's men saw their Week 27 trip to Nîmes Olympique postponed to give them more time to prepare for Thursday's visit of Arsenal, and it proved more than helpful as the Gunners were beaten 3-1 at Roazhon Park.

The Breton club will head to London for next week's second leg, but first have to refocus their minds on their league campaign, which is in danger of peetering out.

After the rush of four wins in Stéphan's opening quartet of matches in charge, just two victories have followed in the seven Ligue 1 Conforama outings since to leave Rennes in mid-table, seven points off Olympique de Marseille in fourth and the only place that will guarantee them a return to the Europa League next season.

Their European win, which had a packed-to-capacity Roazhon Park rocking, will have given them a lift though as they became the first French team to beat Arsenal in France in 14 competitive fixtures.

"It was a very good performance against an excellent team that caused us problems in the first half-an-hour. It was good the players were able to weather the storm, and little by little, we got the feeling that we could even things up," said Stéphan, who saw his team recover from an early Alex Iwobi goal thanks to strikes from Benjamin Bourigeaud and Ismaïla Sarr that sandwiched an own-goal from Nacho Monreal.

"In spite of the win, I think Arsenal are still favourites, the only thing that I am thinking about is that we'll have to score at least once there, if not twice."

"We have to go there to win. History is being written across the city, there's really something happening when you go into town," said Hatem ben Arfa, whose fine individual display was only overshadowed by that of Sarr.

"It was a very intense game. We were lucky to have a very good atmosphere with fans who pushed us from start to finish."

The atmosphere is likely to be only a little less buoyant when Caen visit. Suspended for the European date in midweek, Mbaye Niang could return to the front line as the Senegal international forward looks to maintain a rich vein of form that has brought two goals and an assist in his last four top-flight starts. Right-back Hamari Traoré should also return from a European ban.

Caen would give a lot to be in Rennes' position. The Normandy outfit head into the weekend in the relegation/promotion play-off spot — five points from safety — and could be bottom of the table if the two teams below them, Dijon FCO and En Avant Guingamp, get positive results before kick-off at Roazhon Park.

Fabien Mercadal's men came within three minutes of claiming a surprise draw at home to Paris Saint-Germain last weekend only for Kylian Mbappé to dash their hopes of an unexpected, welcome point.

"It's a disappointment. We didn't manage to hold on for a point. We have room for improvement," grumbled Mercadal, who at least has the consolation of a full squad to choose from.

"Perhaps we have to settle for what we did today because it's Paris. But we should have been better, and we have to learn from that for the matches to come."

Probable teams

Rennes: to follow

Caen: to follow