Rennes stun 10-man Arsenal as Chelsea, Napoli close on Europa League quarters


Rennes (France) (AFP) – Chelsea and Napoli closed in on the Europa League quarter-finals, but Arsenal face a major battle to reach the last eight after a 3-1 defeat away to Rennes on Thursday.

Alex Iwobi gave the Gunners a perfect start in north-western France at a raucous Roazhon Park, but the match hinged on the sending-off of Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos four minutes before half-time.

Benjamin Bourigeaud equalised moments later, and the hosts’ second-half pressure paid off as a Nacho Monreal own goal put Rennes ahead before Ismaila Sarr’s late header gave them a two-goal cushion in the tie.

Unai Emery’s side must now turn the tie around in the second leg in London next Thursday if they are to progress any further in a competition which represents their only hope of silverware this season, and offers a potential route into next season’s Champions League with Arsenal sitting outside the top four in the Premier League.

“I think we can do better, 3-1 is hard for us,” said Emery.

“We are going to think for next week. We will start with 11 against 11, without Sokratis, without (Alexandre) Lacazette, but if we play like we did in the first 40 minutes, with our supporters also, we will have the possibility to come back.”

The Gunners recovered from a first-leg deficit to beat BATE Borisov in the last round, but Rennes are a step up in quality and are revelling in what is already their best ever European run.

– Sokratis sent off –

After Iwobi’s early opener, the game turned just before half-time when Hatem Ben Arfa played in Sarr, who was hauled back by Sokratis just outside the area. The Greek defender had already been booked, so a second caution equalled a red card.

Bourigeaud struck the wall from the resulting free-kick, but the ball came back to him and he sent a stunning half-volley into the far corner.

Petr Cech, back facing one of his former clubs, made several interventions before being beaten again in the 65th minute, as Mehdi Zeffane’s cross from the right deflected in off Monreal and Sarr added the potentially crucial third goal two minutes from time.

– Chelsea cruise –

Chelsea may also need this competition to get back in the Champions League next season and the Blues eased past Dynamo Kiev 3-0 at Stamford Bridge courtesy of goals from Pedro Rodriguez, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

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