Spirit of 1994 needed against Rennes

Chronicles AFC Podcast

A very good win against Manchester United yesterday should serve as a confidence boost for our do or die Europa League second leg v Rennes this Thursday. I will be attending the match and I will be flying to London from Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Through the years the Arsenal matches that I have attended against French opposition have been mixed.A 2-1 defeat to AJ Auxerre in the Champions League group phase in 2002 , A solid 2-0 win against Montpelier in 2013 which included a cracking volley from Lukas Podolski and the most recent a 3-1 defeat against AS Monaco in 2015.

This Rennes team reminds me of AS Monaco of that time.Vibrant and underrated.They are unbeaten in their last five European matches winning four and drawing one.We have it all to do in the second leg and we must fight tooth and nail to make it through to the Europa League Quarter Finals.

This morning I wached the highlights of Rennes 3-1 home victory v Caen in Ligue 1 yesterday. Three great goals including a tremendous free kick from Benjamin Bourigeaud who was a thorn in our side in Brittany last Thursday.Considering how much an impression Benjamin Bourigeaud made in particular last Thursday we his free kick ability , pace and provocation of Arsenal defenders surely it is worh enquiring about obtaining his services in the summer.

Benjamin Bourigeaud came through the youth setup at RC Lens in France who are famous for having a tremendous youth academy that has spawned the likes of Rafael Varane , Serge Aurier and Thorgan Hazard. It is no surprise to me to see yet another player coming through that system to play regularly and be decisive for a French side in the top division.

As we saw last Thursday in Brittany this Rennes side have a lot of quality with the likes Benjamin Bourigeaud, Ismaïla Sarr and Clément Grenier and they will not be phased by their upcoming trip to London.They won 3-1 away to Real Betis in the previous round which was very impressive. We will have to keep an eye on Hatem Ben Arfa, Did you know that he came through the famous Clairefontaine academy in France.I recently interviewed former AJ Auxerre goalkeper Quentin Westberg who described him as the most gifted player that he has played with due to their experiences in the academy together.

We must score early on Thursday and set a high tempo. We could also be in for a long night. My predictions is 3-1 then extra time and Arsenal to win on penalties.It would be a crying shame to exit the Europa League at this stage especially with it being 25 years since our last European trophy. Let’s hope that Unai Emery and the players can evoke the spirit of 1994 and we can continue on the road to Baku on May 29th.

Stade Rennais : Beware the other team in Red & Black

Chronicles AFC Podcast

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 !

Arsenal vs BATE Borisov – Europa League | Match Day Blog

Chronicles AFC Podcast

This season marks 25 years since our last European triumph, the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1994.  A quarter of a century has passed during which we’ve reached a Champions League Final in 2006, a semi final in 2009 against Manchester United and the Europa League semi final in May 2018.

Our upcoming match away to BATE Borisov of Belarus will be another step in our last chance of obtaining silverware this season. We must take this opportunity with both hands in my opinion.

Since we have been playing UEFA Europa League football we have lost to the likes of FC Koln, Ostersunds FK , and been held to draws at home by Red Star Belgrade and Atletico Madrid.  A mixed bag at times, you seem to never know how it will go in Europe when it comes to supporting the Arsenal.

Fortunately this season we have a manager in Unai Emery who has won this tournament three times in a row.  It’s tough enough to win it once in my opinion. I get the feeling in some quarters that some Arsenal fans are not bothered about the Europa League because it is not the Champions League. The fact remains that a European trophy is at stake and we must give our all and play our best team until the end if we harbor ambitions of winning it.

Should we triumph in Baku in Azerbaijan on May 29th 2019 that could be this generations ‘ Copenhagen 1994 night ‘.  As a Gooner of 30 years our Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1994 v Parma remains one of the fondest memories I have, even the previous rounds we were excellent against Odense , Winning against Standard Liege 7-0 away in Belgium making Europe sit up and take notice we went on from there to beat Torino and a very talented Paris Saint-Germain side to book our place in the final.

We even reached the final again in Paris in 1995 against Real Zaragoza a year later. In 2019 we have a chance to make real progress in Europe and I believe that it would give the club a tremendous boost.

Looking at the teams left in the tournament Sevilla, Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg and even the dark horses of Eintracht Frankfurt and Real Betis would provide a stern test in my opinion. We must treat every team with respect and not underestimate anybody. You only have to look at the results in the qualifying rounds of this tournament to see that there have been many surprising results from the beginning and we must take nothing for granted.

I would like to let my fellow Gooners know that the biggest sea change in football apart from money and commercial power changing the landscape in the last 20 years is that the gap between the bigger and more seasoned European teams and the smaller teams has been decreasing year upon year. There are no easy games in Europe.

BATE Borisov have more Champions League experience than Arsenal lately getting knocked out by PSV Eindhoven in the qualifying rounds back in August 2018 losing 3-2 at home in the first leg and they were unlucky to lose in my opinion. They have also held their own against the likes of AS Roma , Bayer Leverkusen and knocking out Partizan Belgrade in the qualifying rounds so we must be professional.

We have 180 minutes to ensure our passage into the last 16 of the Europa League 2019 and a step closer to our goal. Let’s take it game by game and embrace it. Our current squad and Unai Emery have the chance to write a piece of European history for Arsenal. Don’t let this chance pass by. C’mon You Gunners !

James