Weblog: The football punter

Arsenal should fight back at home against Rennes

TV: BT Sport 2, 8pm Thursday

Nothing much went right for Arsenal in last Thursday's 3-1 loss to Rennes but the Gunners are used to winning games at the Emirates Stadium and should fancy their chances of turning the tie around.

Arsenal have collected 41 points from a possible 48 in Premier League home games and approach the match in a confident frame of mind after Sunday's 2-0 success over Manchester United.

Unai Emery was bold with his tactics against United, selecting Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his starting line-up for only the second time this year, and was rewarded with a fluid, attack-minded performance which deservedly yielded three points.

The victory lifted Arsenal back into the top four but Emery is pursuing a two-pronged strategy in an effort to secure Champions League qualification and will be anxious to keep his charges in the Europa League.

They got off to the perfect start in the first leg, taking the lead through Alex Iwobi's fourth-minute goal, but Rennes were offered a route back into the tie when Sokratis Papastathopoulos was dismissed in the 41st minute.

Moments later the French side were level and by the end of the evening, driven on by pacy bursts from right-winger Ismaila Sarr and moments of class from enigmatic attacker Hatem Ben Arfa, they had established a handy two-goal cushion.

The victory was greeted by wild celebrations although the tie remains well-balanced with both teams a shade of odds-on to progress.

The natural tendency would be for Rennes to try to protect their lead but that would be a dangerous tactic against the Gunners, who have scored two goals or more in eight of their last nine matches.

Arsenal have scored the opening goal in the first 16 minutes of their last six games and will look to make early inroads again.

Earlier in the campaign Arsenal were pigeon-holed as a second-half team but they have been starting games with much more purpose in recent times. That trend looks set to continue, making it more likely that backers of the Arsenal-Arsenal double result will collect.

Arsenal-Arsenal double result

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Aston Villa have lost just two of their last 15 matches and valid excuses can be made for both defeats. Dean Smith made wholesale changes with the playoffs in mind for their 2-1 loss to champions Norwich on the final day, while they lost the second leg of semi-final at West Brom despite having 73 per cent possession and winning the shot count 24 to ten. They are full of confidence and should be more determined than ever after last season’s playoff final heartbreak.