Fast forward 86 minutes and their European hopes are hanging by a thread. Unai Emery and his side are in trouble. Big trouble.
They can, of course, salvage the situation in next week’s second leg at the Emirates.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
RENNES (4-4-1-1): Koubek 6.5; Zeffane 7, Da Silva 7, Mexer 7, Bensebaini 8; Bourigeaud 9 (Lea Siliki 73), Andre 8, Grenier 8 (Gelin 90), Sarr 8; Ben Arfa 7.5; Hunou 7
Subs not used: Badiashile, Doumbia, Johansson, Lauriente, Del Castillo
Goals: Bourigeaud 42, Monreal 65 og, Sarr 88
Booked: Bourigeaud, Zeffane
Manager: Julien Stephan 8
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Cech 7.5; Mustafi 5, Sokratis 4, Koscielny 5, Monreal 4; Xhaka 5, Torreira 6; Mkhitaryan 5, Ozil 5 (Ramsey 70, 5), Iwobi 6.5 (Guendouzi 53, 5); Aubameyang 5 (Kolansinac 79).
Subs: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Suarez, Nketiah
Goal: Iwobi 3
Red card: Sokratis
Manager: Unai Emery 6
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (SVK) – 6.5
And they’ve done it before; recovering from a shock 1-0 loss to BATE Borisov in the first leg to stroll into the last 16 in the return game just last month.
But this isn’t BATE Borisov. Rennes look a proper football team. Brimming with swagger and ability – they undoubtedly have the tools to complete the job in seven days time.
Emery will back his team to reach the quarter finals. But on this evidence – despite playing the majority of the game with 10 men following Sokratis’ sending off just before half time – overturning the deficit could well beyond Arsenal.
Back in France for the first time since losing his job at Paris Saint Germain, Emery fielded a strong team that included Mesut Ozil, whose reintegration back into his manager’s plans appear to be gathering pace.
Rennes have their own enigmatic, sometimes troublesome, maverick, of course. Hatem Ben Arfa, who sensationally fell out wth Emery during the pair’s time together at Paris Saint Germain, starting for the French side.
No doubt both had one eye on that incredible night in the French capital a little under 24 hours prior to this clash.
No doubt both raised a little wry smile at the sight of their former club being dumped out of the Champions League in such unforgettable circumstances against Manchester United.
Arsenal hope they can be back among Europe’s elite next season. Rennes, on the other hand, are still trying to comprehend they were playing the Gunners in the Europa League last 16.
This was billed as the biggest occasion in the club’s 118 year history. It certainly sounded like, home supporters – who queued up over night to secure their tickets – ludicrously loud ahead of kick-off.