10-man Arsenal require a monumental effort in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 clash against Rennes after Sokratis Papastathopoulos first-half red card sparked a 3-1 defeat.
Nigeria winger Alex Iwobi gave Thursday’s visitors to Roazhon Park a great start, courtesy of his fluky third-minute goal. Greece centre-back Sokratis, however, received two quick-fire bookings and was dismissed on 41 minutes.
From the subsequent free-kick, winger Benjamin Bourigeaud bludgeoned in a superb drive from a rebound to level up. Rennes then dominated after the interval, Sloppy Spain left-back Nacho Monreal’s deflection and Senegal wide man Ismaila Sarr’s diving header inflicting a first-ever European away defeat in France on the Gunners.
The sides meet again at Emirates Stadium on March 15.
Here are the Gunners’ player ratings:
Petr Cech 8: Back at the club he represented from 2002-04, the Czech veteran was outstanding. Kept out several long-range shots from Hatem Ben Arfa. Could have been much worse, if not for him.
Shkodran Mustafi 5: Usual mixed bag from the once Germany international. Dragged a decent 31st-minute chance wide. Soldiered on after early injury.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos 4: Soft cautions seven minutes apart saw him given his marching orders before the break. This killed all the Gunners’ early momentum, plus sent Rennes on their way to a threatening advantage.
Laurent Koscielny 6: Former Lorient defender attempted to dig in against waves of home attacks. Angered by Sarr dive after interval. Helpless for goals.
Nacho Monreal 3: Spain utility man hung out a leg and deflected in the valuable second for resurgent Rennes. Unforgivably, lost ball in build-up and declined to get back for Sarr’s bullet header for third.
Granit Xhaka 5: Picked up his standard booking, this time for a foul on Ben Arfa. Attempted to plug gaps in midfield as Arsenal retreated with 10 men. Fortunate not to pick up second booking.
Lucas Torreira 5: Uruguay anchor man started, in part because of his domestic suspension. First-time strike in 12th minute was well saved. Over-run as tie progressed.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan 5: Played most the match in the odd position of right-back, thanks to Sokratis’ dismissal. Combined well in first 20 minutes with Ozil, then faded.
Mesut Ozil 5: Back in the XI, but deemed a luxury before the 70-minute mark and hooked. Once Arsenal went down to 10 men, this was not a game for the ex-Germany playmaker’s refined skills. Took too much time over second-half shot, shooting centrally.
Alex Iwobi 6: Cross-shot crept in at the back post to gift Arsenal perfect start. Few nice touches, elsewhere.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 5: Toiled up top, receiving piecemeal service from Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Brought off late on, maybe with an eye on Sunday’s critical clash with Manchester United.
Matteo Guendouzi 4: Ex-Lorient starlet’s every touch was booed. His introduction at interval led to a reshuffle. Cowardly attempt to block cross led to Monreal own goal.
Aaron Ramsey 5: Trusted to see out the strained final throes. Couldn’t, however, ensure Rennes’ drive was halted.
Sead Kolasinac N/A: Thrown on to add ballast on left flank. Nowhere for third goal.
This week may be all about Champions League and Europa League games for several of Europe’s top sides but, come the weekend, normal business resumes with a exciting slate of fixtures in the continent’s top five leagues.
Here’s a look at the games to watch from each of the top five leagues in Europe.
MATCH: Arsenal v Manchester United
WHERE: Emirates Stadium
WHEN: 20:30 Sunday, March 10
Just one point separates these two long-standing Premier League rivals, with United having surged into fourth place under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Arsenal right behind in fifth.
The two sides played out a manic 2-2 draw in December at Old Trafford, with some nervy defending from both teams making for an entertaining fixture. That was during the last days of the Jose Mourinho era at United, however, and a more instructive result would be the 3-1 win Solskjaer masterminded in the FA Cup at the Emirates in January.
United made it clear after that game they knew they could hit Arsenal on the counter, which means it’s up to the Gunners and Unai Emery to adjust this time around. Otherwise, Solskjaer’s side could be dancing on their rivals’ pitch yet again.
MATCH: Borussia Dortmund v Stuttgart
WHEN: 18:30 Saturday, March 9
Borussia Dortmund need to stop the rot. They’ve won just once in their last eight games across all competitions, a run that has seen them knocked out of the DFB Pokal and Champions League while coughing up a nine-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table, with Bayern Munich now level on points.
There were signs in Tuesday’s defeat to Tottenham, even though it ended 1-0 to the visitors, that Dortmund are finding their groove again. Only a superlative display from Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris kept them from making life nervous for the English side, who had a 3-0 lead from the first leg.
The return of captain Marco Reus has come at a perfect time, and with Jadon Sancho in sizzling form and Mario Gotze and Paco Alcacer in the ranks, they should have too much for relegation-threatened Stuttgart at home.
Thank you for never losing hope.— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) March 5, 2019
Thank you for always believing.
Thank you for your continuous support.
No Matter What. pic.twitter.com/TVAwVorRJe
MATCH: Fiorentina v Lazio
WHERE: Artemio Franchi Stadium
WHEN: 23:30 Sunday, March 10
Fiorentina are hanging on in the race for a European spot in Serie A, but Sunday’s showdown with sixth-placed Lazio will be pivotal. La Viola are in 10th and five points behind the Rome side, who themselves are chasing a Champions League spot, with Inter Milan six points ahead in fourth having played one game more.
Lazio go into this game on a high, having thrashed rivals Roma 3-0 last week in the Eternal City derby in what was a statement win. In that form, even home advantage may not be enough for Fiorentina, though a loss could be fatal to their hopes of snatching the final Europa League spot.
With young stars like Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic on show, this game should be an exciting watch.
MATCH: St-Etienne v Lille
WHERE: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
WHEN: 18:00 Sunday, March 10
Last week’s 2-0 loss to Marseille has left St-Etienne on the outside looking in, in the hunt for a European spot in Ligue 1, as the result saw them drop to fifth place in the league table.
The big games are coming thick and fast for Jean-Louis Gasset’s side, as they now host second-place Lille who are in the midst of an impressive season. Though Paris Saint-Germain are too far ahead to catch, Lille are 10 points ahead of fourth-placed Marseille and thus looking likely to make a return to the Champions League.
They haven’t lost a game in the league since December, though last week’s win over Dijon ended a run of two straight draws. A trip to St-Etienne is never easy, but Christophe Galtier’s team will be confident of getting a positive result.
5 - Lille have conceded only 5 goals in first-halves in Ligue 1 this season, no other team from the Top 5 European leagues have conceded fewer (level with Atlético de Madrid). Strong ⛔. pic.twitter.com/kvuSbMJrtg— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2019
MATCH: Alaves v Eibar
WHERE: Mendizorrotza Stadium
WHEN: 16:00 Saturday, March 9
Two of the surprise packages of the Spanish season face off on Saturday with unthinkable prizes on the line. Eibar would never enter a season harbouring hopes of qualifying for Europe, yet they’re just three points behind sixth-placed Sevilla and a spot in next year’s Europa League.
And if that would be a historic achievement, what about Alaves? The Basque side are just two points away from a Champions League spot – fourth place is currently held by Getafe, making this a season of dream runs by smaller sides – and finishing in La Liga‘s top four would be a miraculous result for Alaves. Even a top-six finish would be a wonderful achievement.
This game is thus a neutral’s nightmare, as a win for either side would be a crushing blow for the hopes of the losing team, while a draw would do neither much good. Whichever way this game goes, however, it could end up being part of one of Spanish football’s greatest stories.
FT Villarreal 1-2 Alavés.— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) March 2, 2019
Alavés are in a Champions League place.
(Getafe and Sevilla still to play).
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari challenged everyone at the club to respond with bravery after Ajax dumped the Champions League holders out with a brilliant 4-1 victory at Santiago Bernabeu.
Los Blancos’ campaign continued to deteriorate following their exit from the Copa del Rey at the hands of bitter rivals Barcelona, who went on to press home their LaLiga dominance with victory on Saturday.
Ajax became the first team to overturn a 2-1 first-leg home defeat in the Champions League as they booked a place in the quarter-finals.
Real Madrid’s record of reaching the semi-finals in each of the last eight European campaigns was brought to a shuddering halt.
Without captain Sergio Ramos, who was suspended after deliberately collecting a yellow card in Amsterdam, Real failed to make the most of early dominance as Raphael Varane’s header rattled the crossbar before the visitors swept into the lead through Hakim Ziyech.
Dusan Tadic, who produced a brilliant display, set up David Neres for a second in the 18th minute.
After Real Madrid lost both Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior to injury, substitute Gareth Bale struck the post just before half-time.
Ajax looked to have put the tie to bed when Tadic swept in a brilliant third goal just after the hour – which was eventually given following an extensive Video Assistant Referee review to check if the ball had gone out of play in the build-up.
Substitute Marco Asensio briefly gave Real hope when he put the ball in off the post with 20 minutes left.
Lasse Schone, though, capped a brilliant night for Erik Ten Hag’s side when he curled in an angled free-kick over Thibaut Courtois on 72 minutes.
Real finished with 10 men after Nacho picked up two needless late cautions, while Bale limped on what looked like a serious ankle problem.
It was a fourth successive home loss for Los Blancos, with pressure mounting on Argentine coach Solari.
“The season is difficult, but we are here to show our heart and character in difficult moments,” Solari said in his post-match interview with Spanish broadcaster Movistar.
“Easy moments are easy for everyone, you can climb up and surf them, but difficult moments you have to show bravery.”
Solari added: “What we must do is remain as calm as possible in such a difficult moment and take it on with the best character.
“Madrid is bigger than any of us – it always returns – and returns even stronger.”
Solari admitted Ramos has been a loss at the heart of the defence.
“Without talking badly about any of our players, of course we missed our captain,” he said.
Ajax, meanwhile, go on to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2003.
Coach Erik ten Hag said to Dutch broadcaster Veronica TV: “This was pretty close to perfection.
“Over the two matches we definitely deserve to progress to the next round.
“I have no influence on the draw, so I’m not going to think about it. All the possible opponents are big teams – but so were Real Madrid.”