Game of many returns for Gunners

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (far left) and Alexandre Lacazette training in London ahead of Arsenal's Europa League match against Rennes. Aubameyang will likely lead the attack with his French teammate suspended.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (far left) and Alexandre Lacazette training in London ahead of Arsenal's Europa League match against Rennes. Aubameyang will likely lead the attack with his French teammate suspended.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Arsenal manager Unai Emery will face a familiar foe when the Gunners look to move a step closer to Europa League glory at Rennes today.

French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa endured an unhappy two years under Emery at Paris Saint-Germain where he was frozen out for an entire season and made to train with the club's reserves.

However, his mercurial talent has now helped Ligue 1 side Rennes reach the last 16 of an European competition for the first time.

At 31, Ben Arfa has relaunched his career in the more modest surroundings of Roazhon Park and will aim to inflict revenge upon Emery today.

Rennes may lie 10th in Ligue 1, but shocked a highly fancied Real Betis in the last 32 with a thrilling 6-4 aggregate win.

"We know it'll be a level up against such a club," said Rennes midfielder Benjamin Andre.

"Arsenal is a name that resonates throughout Europe. They will obviously be the big favourites."

 
 
 

Arsenal's struggles on the road in Emery's first season in charge should give the French side reason to believe. The Gunners have won just once away from home since November, suffering an embarrassing 1-0 defeat by Bate Borisov in the last 32 before turning the tie around at the Emirates.

 

French international Alexandre Lacazette will miss out on a return to his homeland as he is suspended, but there will be a homecoming of another sort for Petr Cech, who spent two years at Rennes before joining Chelsea in 2004.

The Blues, meanwhile, are aiming to win the competition for a second time in six years starting against Dynamo Kiev at Stamford Bridge, with Maurizio Sarri having seemingly bounced back from the brink of losing his job.

London derby victories over Tottenham and Fulham have given the Italian breathing space after a 6-0 Premier League thrashing by Manchester City and then seeing his authority questioned by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga's refusal to be substituted in the League Cup final.

Sarri's fate, though, will likely depend on sealing a return to Champions League football next season and winning the Europa League may yet prove the best means to that end with Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea fighting for the final two places in the Premier League's top four.

Off the pitch, Fifa confirmed on Tuesday that Chelsea have appealed against a transfer ban imposed after they were found guilty of breaching rules on recruiting 29 foreign players under the age of 18.

The Blues, banned from the next two transfer windows and also fined 600,000 Swiss francs (S$810,850), had already said they would appeal against the decision taken by Fifa's disciplinary committee last month.

Fifa said in a statement that it could neither offer a schedule for the process, nor whether the ban would be lifted pending the hearing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Game of many returns for Gunners'. Print Edition | Subscribe