After the Europa League Last 16 draw on Friday Arsenal have been drawn against Stade Rennais of France. A draw that most Gooners are happy with and although I admit it could have been worse we must not underestimate them.
With players such a Hatem Ben Arfa , Clement Grenier , Souleyman Doumbia and Ismaila Sarr they will provide a stern test over two legs. We must not forget that this Stade Rennais team put six goals past a very impressive Real Betis side over two legs. The same Real Betis side who have beaten Atletico Madrid at home and won away in the Camp Nou against FC Barcelona this season. This will not be an easy European tie by any stretch of the imagination.
In the Europa League group stage Stade Rennais finished second two points behind group K winners Dynamo Kiev and I believe that the Europa League could become a welcome distraction to their patchy Ligue 1 form where they currently sit 11th in the table having only won two of their last 6 matches.
I recently interviewed current MSV Duisburg Dutch striker John Verhoek who played for Stade Rennais and he had this to say when reflecting on his arrival in Brittany in France in 2011 ‘ When I arrived at Rennes I came straight from the Dutch First division and the difference between the leagues was really big.
‘ Back then I did not really know what senior football was. If I was to look at that now with all the experience that I have now I realize what I have ‘
‘ I was too impatient at that age and therefore could not perform to the best of my ability. It was a real learning curve. The speed of the league was the thing that I noticed the most. I remember the physicality of my first training session at the club, and in comparison to the Netherlands it was extreme ‘
‘ It was great to play alongside the likes of Yann M’Vila and Yacine Brahimi. I also enjoyed playing in great matches against Paris St Germain, and Lyon away where I played well and we managed to get a draw ‘
In the above quote he mentions Yann M’Vila and Yacine Brahimi now of AS Saint – Etienne and FC Porto respectively and you only have to look back at the caliber of players that Stade Rennais have had in the past including former Arsenal striker Sylvain Wiltord as well as the likes of Ousmane Dembélé , Luís Fabiano and in a somewhat poetic twist in his last season as a professional footballer Petr Čech returns to his old club
All in all this team in dangerous and their cauldron of a stadium Roazhon Park will serve to create an intimidating atmosphere. We must remain professional from minute one on the 7th March in Brittany. We are in with a chance of winning our first European trophy in 25 years. Let’s show some intent and fight in the northwestern most region of France and prove we have learned from our experience in Belarus and take another step towards Baku and the Europa League Final on May 29th in Azerbaijan. C’mon You Gunners !