Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles also on target, as Arsenal beat Rennes 3-0, and 4-3 on aggregate, to reach the Europa League quarter-finals
It was a night when Arsenal required superhuman effort and some heroic performances to overturn a two-goal handicap and seize their ticket for the Europa League quarter-finals. An accomplished team performance was crowned by the moment Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang plundered their third goal and relished the moment with a spot of dressing up. His chosen character, embellished by the mask that had been waiting in the goal, was Black Panther. His teammates huddled round him cherishing another important moment in what has felt like a pivotal week.
Aubameyang had spoken of his hunger for this challenge and he led the charge with effervescence. But it is necessary to share the limelight around, and over the course of the past few days Arsenal have revived their season with compelling efforts in crunch fixtures against Manchester United and Rennes. Two meaningful wins, two clean sheets, many influential performances: Laurent Koscielny deserves plaudits for inspiring the defence, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka took responsibility in midfield, Ainsley Maitland-Niles found new levels of positional nous, confidence and even popped up with one of the goals.
All in all it left Unai Emery wondering about how much his team developed over this period when they gave big answers to a couple of complicated questions. We can be proud of our players today, he said. It was a very difficult week against Man United Sunday and today against Rennes after our defeat there. Playing under pressure is good. Growing up under pressure for each player, for the team, you feel difficult moments to give us our best performance. It is good for our confidence to feel that.
Emery loaded up the attack, again trusting all his most experienced players in the front half of the team, and he was rewarded as they surged into a vital lead with two goals in the first 15 minutes. No sooner had the game kicked off than the Emirates was filling with smoke and raucous noise. It happened to come from the Clock End, which housed the boisterous travelling party of 5,000 Rennes supporters who ignited a flurry of scarlet flares.
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