Arsenal left feeling French dejection after Sokratis suffers off day
Rennes 3 Arsenal 1
It was a moment of class, followed by a moment of farce, that ripped this tie out of the clutches of Arsenal, who lost their centre-back to a red card and then promptly lost control of their European destiny.
The first-half dismissal of Sokratis Papastathopoulos left Unai Emery's side swimming against a red tide in Rennes, forced to cling on in vain hope that the damage would not get even worse. Benjamin Bourigeaud's phenomenal strike, lasered into the top corner barely seconds after Sokratis had left the pitch, changed the dynamic of this last-16 encounter. The ferocity of the finish appeared to leave Arsenal in a daze.
It was an own goal of considerable misfortune, the ball spinning off Nacho Monreal's hip and into the top corner, that gave Rennes the lead. But by the end, when the brilliant Ismaila Sarr headed home a third, Arsenal could perhaps consider themselves fortunate that the French side were not out of sight. Alex Iwobi had put them in front in the opening moments, but the memories of that encouraging start had not lingered for long.
It all made for another chastening night in Europe for Arsenal, who also lost the first leg against Bate Borisov in the previous round.
Arsenal will certainly have little chance if they are to lose another player through ill-discipline as early as the 41st minute. The red card shown to Sokratis was followed immediately by Bourigeaud's missile, leaving Arsenal reeling from a classic double-whammy.
Asked afterwards if the dismissal had changed the game, Emery said: "More than we wanted. The first 40 minutes we controlled, we scored, we did not concede good chances. But after this red card it is different."
Sokratis received his first yellow for a foul on the ever-dangerous Hatem Ben Arfa. The Rennes forward was looking to prove a point against Emery, under whom he had a torrid time at Paris Saint-Germain, and he clearly enjoyed the victory. "I did see the same Emery, as agitated as ever," he said. "I looked over at him a few times and that made me laugh a little. He has not changed."
The second Sokratis foul, for a sly tug of the arm, was on the flying Sarr. Bourigeaud struck the resulting free-kick into the Arsenal wall and then bludgeoned the rebound into Petr Cech's top corner.
It was only the heroics of Cech that kept the score level until Mehdi Zeffane's cross struck Monreal and looped into the far corner.
Rennes continued to push for a third and Sarr eventually found the net, right at the end, with a fizzing header from James Lea Siliki's cross. Cech had no chance, and the truth is that Arsenal are left with only a slim chance next week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)