Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a brace to send Arsenal into the quarter-finals of the Europa League, their 3-0 home win securing a 4-3 aggregate victory against Rennes.
With the Ligue 1 side leading 3-1 from the first leg, Arsenal needed a fast start and they got one, opening the scoring in the fifth minute when Maitland-Niles and Aaron Ramsey combined down the right channel to tee up Aubameyang for a simple close-range finish.
And the Gunners were soon on level terms in the tie, Maitland-Niles arriving at the back post to steer home a downward header from Aubameyang’s cross, Rennes having paused for an offside flag that did not come.
But Arsenal’s tempo slipped, and a run from Hatem Ben Arfa – an outcast under current Gunners boss Unai Emery at Paris Saint-Germain – ended with a tame shot at Petr Cech.
A buoyed Rennes then hit the post after the restart, Niang beating former Rennes goalkeeper Cech, but not the woodwork, after Shkodran Mustafi gave the ball away near his own box.
Substitute Alex Iwobi rifled wide from the edge of the penalty area as Arsenal tried to settle the tie, before Aubameyang came up with what proved to be the decisive goal in the 72nd minute.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan sent Sead Kolasinac clear into space on the left wing to deliver a low cross and Aubameyang was there to tuck home, celebrating the goal by wearing a Black Panther mask.
What does it mean? Arsenal do enough
After 15 minutes of the second leg, it seemed as though Arsenal were going to cruise into the quarter-finals. But, having got back on level terms quickly, the Gunners took their foot off the pedal and allowed Rennes to establish a foothold in the match.
Emery, who led Sevilla to the Europa League title three years in a row, may have been nervy in the second half before Aubameyang settled the tie.
Aubameyang shows cutting edge
Gabon international Aubameyang is more used to featuring in the Champions League than Europe’s second-tier competition, but his early impact with a goal and an assist was decisive for the Gunners.
Aubameyang had not scored in the competition since September, so breaking his duck to get Arsenal up and running was timely, then he struck again late on for his sixth brace of the season in all competitions. He should have had a hat-trick, too, missing two late chances to secure the match ball.
Sarr quiet on Arsenal audition
Ismaila Sarr scored the third goal for his side last week, but the Rennes winger struggled to make a positive impression in the second leg. Having been linked with a move to Arsenal at the end of this season, Sarr did not seize his opportunity to shine, with a hopeful shot in the sixth minute of added time his only notable contribution.
Arsenal do not return to action until 1 April with a Premier League game at home to Newcastle United. Rennes, however, are away to Bordeaux in Ligue 1 on Sunday.
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