Arsenal v Rennes: A chance for Gunners to show they have shaken off ‘bottle-job’ mentality

Arsenal have shown in big matches this season that they have the mentality to rise to the challenge when the chips are down, much more so than they have in years gone by.

The Gunners too often displayed a fundamental weakness in spirit and desire in the biggest matches in the latter stages of the Arsene Wenger era, with thumping defeats at Bayern Munich typifying the dying embers of the Frenchman’s reign.

That’s not to say that horrid tendency to wither and die has gone away for good under Unai Emery – the thrashing at Liverpool was ample demonstration of that – but this squad has show a battling, tenacious quality that has been absent for some time.

Arsenal Training Session

For that reason, there is plenty of hope left for Emery’s men as they face the daunting task of having to overturn a two-goal deficit when welcoming Rennes to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

It would, of course, be a tough ask for any side to start a game with a two-goal deficit let alone an Arsenal side with a famously porous defence.

That said, there is still every reason to be optimistic that we can get the goals we need, particularly with the bonus of an away goal in the bag and with a side enjoying a strong run of form in the league.

But the counter-attacking threat will be a real and ever-present one in this game. Any smart side would do the same with a two-goal cushion and the Rennes manager looks to be a canny operator.

The joy his side had in wide areas and on the counter attack proved to be the difference last Thursday and I would expect the French side to persist with those tactics, especially if Arsenal opt for a more attacking formation. The Gunners will still need to be sharp and wary of over-committing, even with their need to make up lost ground.

With the international break looming large after this game, and some of the squad set for a week-long break in Dubai, I would expect Emery to field a similar-looking side to the one that lined up against Manchester United.

They won’t be as fresh as might be desired but they won’t have the burden of an extra game to prepare for in the middle of next week, so they can afford to go full tilt.

The side that faced United, spearheaded by Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette (who is back early from suspension), and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang performed well against a strong United defence and I would expect them to have plenty of joy against a mediocre Rennes setup too.

They may be slight tweaks in personnel, but I think the essence of that line-up will remain and the spirit of its intent will too. The Gunners have to chase this one and I think they will look to make a breakthrough early on.

Quick goals change matches and, if we can make strike a blow as early as we did against BATE Borisov, we will ratchet up the pressure on a French side that, let’s face it, weren’t that great until they were gifted the red card advantage by Sokratis.

Having manoeuvred ourselves into a strong position in the Premier League, this match carries a little less significance than it did, but it is still an enormously important insurance policy – and a piece of silverware to boot – that could yet prove vital to our future ambitions.

To that end I think Emery’s men will go after this one in a big way and I think, even now, they will have enough to get the job done.

The first leg was something of an aberration, a unique set of circumstances that Arsenal failed to adapt to but should learn from.

Thursday night’s match should see circumstances much more in our favour and I would hope to see the players enjoying really going after a team, maximising their skills as attacking footballers.

There are still flaws to iron out in the mentality of this Arsenal side but a great deal of work has gone in to making them more resilient and much tougher to beat.

The visit of Rennes should show us exactly how much of a difference that work has made and what work remains to be done.

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