Aubameyang double sees off Rennes as Arsenal join the English Euro party
Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 (4-3 agg)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted twice as Arsenal found the gears to blow Rennes away and book their place in the Europa League quarter-finals.
They only needed 15 minutes to wipe out the French side’s 3-1 lead from the first leg and all those fears that they would be the one English team to miss out in the European knock-out stages simply melted away – although it needed Aubameyang’s second half goal to remove the threat of a goal from the visitors putting them out.
With all four Premier League teams involved in the Champions League safely through to the quarters and Chelsea securing their passage in the Europa League in the early-evening kick-off, Arsenal were determined not to become the poor relations and they set off like a train.
Unai Emery, who took ownership of this competition when he was at Seville, winning the trophy three times, could not have asked for a better start. With only five minutes played, Aaron Ramsey squared for Aubameyang to prod home at the near post.
And just 10 minutes later, the Gabonese striker turned provider when his cross from the left byline – he looked offside chasing a pass from Ramsey - caught Rennes napping and Ainsley Maitland-Niles stole in to nod home forcefully at the far post.
Aubameyang, who now has 11 goals and four assists to his name in the past 13 appearances at the Emirates after his double, seemed determined to show that the early return from suspension of strike partner Alex Lacazette would not be the defining detail of the night.
But it also underlined what a loss the Juventus-bound Ramsey will be for the Gunners next season. The closer he is to the leaving date, the better he seems to be playing.
The fans from Brittany, who packed out the lower section of the Clock End, and were full of noisy exuberance, had barely seen their red flares fizzle out and they were already behind on away goals.
Rennes recovered their composure after their nightmare start and did not go quietly – picking up a few bookings and showing a spikiness that demanded some careful discipline from the home side.
The French visitors had plenty of pace about them but were repeatedly caught offside in their attempts to chase the game.
M’Baye Niang’s low shot cannoned back off post, with Petr Cech, playing against one of his old teams, getting a touch to make sure it did not creep in, but they got no closer.
A minute after coming on for the ineffective Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was involved in setting up Arsenal’s third goal of the night – laying the ball off for Sead Kolisanic to drill a low cross which Aubameyang tapped in at the far post.
And the striker might have made it a hat-trick, toe-poking narrowly wide after being found in the box by Alex Iwobi and then scuffing Ramsey’s inviting pass when presented with a clear target.
Line-up: Cech – Mustfi, Koscienly, Monreal, Kolasinac – Ramsey (Torreira 87), Xhaka – Maitland-Niles, Ozil (Mkhitaryan 69), Aubameyany – Lacazette (Iwobi 69). Subs not used: Leno, Suarez, Guendouzi, Nketiah