Rennes 3 Arsenal 1: The Gunners are masters of their own disaster in throw back performance

Picture the scene; You’ve had a lousy game, you’re a man down, a goal down, and in need of some respite after a difficult 90 minutes.

But it’s ok because you have the ball right up by the opposition corner flag, you have just a few minutes to hang on and a chance to keep hold of the ball and eat up some precious seconds. After all, an away goal is precious and there’s only a single goal in it.

So you keep hold of the ball, waste a few more minutes, get back into the changing rooms, jump on a plane, and head home with a job badly done but not beyond repair.

Not so, Arsenal, though. The obvious (and therefore logical) ending is mundane, run-of-the-mill, lacking any sort of challenge. Who wants the quiet life?

No, far better to commit all available players to the attack, aimlessly give the ball away in an atrocious position and then watch on as the opposition, who were actually hanging on for the 2-1 win, rip you open in three passes and make a difficult scenario a near-impossible one.

It was all so vintage Arsenal that it bordered on funny. It was so woeful, so inept, and so tactically naïve that our French hosts could scarcely believe their luck. From sitting tight for the narrow win, to being gift-wrapped a huge advantage in barely five passes. It was Easter and Christmas all in one.

In the end, it was just about what Arsenal deserved. In the first 35 minutes, the Gunners were comfortable and in control. Rennes had nothing of note to give us any pause and we were well on course for the next round, even at that early stage.

The dismissal of Sokratis changed everything. Just as at Anfield, Arsenal fell to pieces just minutes after the Greek defender left the pitch, this time for a second bookable offence that I had no real quarrel with.

It may just be a couple of coincidences but the 29-year-old seems to be so integral a part of our defence that his removal causes panic and chaos to reign instantaneously.

From the free-kick that followed Sokratis’s dismissal, a fortunate deflection fell right into the path of the Rennes free-kick taker, with the stars aligning just enough for him to smash home an unstoppable half-volley at the second attempt, rubbing lemon juice and salt into Arsenal’s wounds.

I’m sure the Greek decided to risk the red card in order to prevent his marker a golden opportunity to score but, in a horribly ironic twist, all he ended up doing was hamstringing the team and gifting Rennes the equaliser they in no way deserved.

The team plunged off a cliff from there. In terms of organisation, shape, resilience, ball retention, passing, and tactics, they were abject. They gave the ball away regularly and inexplicably, failed to track runners, got caught in possession, allowed the host’s creative players time and space and basically did everything they could possibly do to make it harder on themselves.

As with their first goal, Rennes second was outrageously fortuitous but I struggle to begrudge them it given how dominant they were in the second half. However handy the deflection off Nacho Monreal was, I suspect it was only a matter of time before they found a second goal in any event.

The only saving grace for Arsenal’s 10 men was that, at 2-1, we had a reasonable platform to build on at the Emirates in a week. Just a single goal would put us back in the driving seat. It wasn’t great, but it was manageable and, in truth, Rennes seemed happy to take their chances with that scoreline too. For the last 20 minutes, they were content to keep the ball and play it safe, trying to avoid the danger of a second away goal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Arsenal offered up their pants and Rennes pulled them down to make it 3-1.

Although I found his decision to allow Rennes the ball in wide areas a strange and ineffectual one, I think Unai Emery did ok on the night. I don’t pin too much blame on him.

For me, the blame lies squarely with the players who spent the night making terrible decision after terrible decision. From Sokratis’s rashness, to the disastrously misplaced passing of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka, to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s attempted flicks and tricks under pressure in his own half. To a man, the Gunners were awful. Nobody emerged from the night with any credit, save perhaps for Petr Cech, who made a few solid saves.

While it’s possible for Arsenal to recover this situation, thanks largely to their away goal, they have, once again, exposed the weaknesses in their mentality and their game management for all to see. These flaws run deep in the psyche of some of our players and there will simply have to be a raft of changes in the summer to address them.

Until then, the Gunners must find a way to dust themselves down, refocus, and get their brains back into gear because they have a lot of important away fixtures between now and the end of the season and, if they can’t find ways to adapt to pressure and misfortune, they will emerge from this campaign with absolutely nothing to show for their efforts.

We have it all to do from here.



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