Arsenal have been drawn against French side Stade Rennes in the next round of the Europa League – but who are they and what do the Gunners need to watch out for?
After breezing to a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov on Thursday night, Arsenal booked their place in the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier competition, with their prize a two-legged tie against Ligue 1’s fifth place finishers in 2017/18.
Although Unai Emery’s side have already been installed as favourites to progress to the next round, there is seldom anything simple about the way the Gunners do business – as most of us are painfully aware.
For Rennes part, they made it into the draw for the last 16 courtesy of an eye-catching 3-1 win at Spanish side Real Betis on Thursday. The French side managed a 3-3 draw in the first leg to record a 6-4 aggregate win overall.
Julien Stephan was, until December last year, the reserve coach for Rennes, having progressed from the youth team setup.
He took charge on an interim basis after former boss Sabri Lamouchi was sacked. He appears to have impressed since then, seeing the club to four consecutive league wins in his first four games in charge and through to the latter stages of four cup competitions for the first time in Rennes’ history. He has six wins from 10 league matches at the helm.
After a dreadful start to the league season, which ultimately saw Lamouchi sacked, Rennes have picked up again under Stephan and find themselves in 11th place, albeit just four points off Marseille in fourth.
Aside from Paris Saint-Germain, who have lost just once in 24 matches and sit 15 points clear at the top of the table, there appears to be close competition between most sides.
Hatem Ben Arfa
The 31-year-old played under Emery at PSG and the two had a very public falling out.
Ben Arfa was frozen out by the Spaniard and decided to up sticks and moves to Rennes last summer.
The ill feeling between the two is well known.
Since his move, Ben Arfa has seven goals to his name in all competitions, placing him among the leading scorers at the club. He is a mercurial talent known as much for his arrogance and attitude as his undoubted skill. He also has three assists.
The 20-year-old Senegalese striker has 10 goals to his name this season in all competitions, leading the way for his side. He also has a haul of six assists, making him an interesting young talent who may be the one to watch over the two legs.
The versatile midfielder has scored two and created two for his team so far this season.
The first leg will be played in France on March 7, with the return fixture coming a week later at the Emirates.