For the second round running, Arsenal have left themselves with a lot of work to do in the second leg. Last week’s 3-1 reversal in France has left Rennes in the driving seat and even in a month of stunning European comebacks, it still doesn’t feel likely that Arsenal will pull this one off.
Rennes have been free-scoring in the knockout stages of the Europa League, scoring three goals in each of their three games. They emphatically dumped out Real Betis in the round of 32 and the Spanish club are no mugs, being the only team to win at the Nou Camp this season.
Arsenal’s one advantage is the away goal they managed to come away with from last week’s defeat, but it seems inevitable that Rennes will score and wipe that advantage out.
Missing Sokratis through suspension, Arsenal will be forced to revert to the easily exposed centre half partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi – it’s hard to see them keeping a clean sheet.
Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United at the weekend might offer the Gunners hope that they are capable of pulling this one off, but the result is somewhat misleading. Arsenal’s two goals came by virtue of a goalkeeping error and a dodgy penalty, while they only kept a clean sheet because Romelu Lukaku missed a host of clear-cut chances.
The Gunners were not as good as they were made out to be against a sluggish United, and a similar performance won’t be good enough on Thursday.
Sunday’s win over The Red Devils did establish one thing, however. Arsenal are now in pole position to finish in the top four with by far the easiest of run-ins and they might be best suited to remove all other distractions.
Verdict: Rennes to qualify @ 17/20
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Benfica will need to score at least three times to ensure their passage to the last eight. Otherwise, it will be a very long and nervous night for the Portuguese club. Luckily for them, they tend to score at home by the bucketload.
Benfica have only failed to score at Estadio Da Luz on two occasions this season – against Bayern Munich and more recently against Galatasaray – and have scored 23 goals in their last six games there. With the axe of a potential away goal hanging over them, you would expect Benfica to go out with the intention of scoring as many goals as they possibly can.
On the other hand, Dinamo Zagreb cannot afford to sit in and play for a scoreless draw. Such is the nature of European football these days that defensive football has been consigned to the past. Juventus’ second leg comeback against Atletico Madrid is proof, if any was needed, that defensive football doesn’t work in Europe any more. The Croatians will therefore need an away goal if they’re to progress and that should ensure goals in this tie.
Verdict: Over 2.5 goals @ 17/20
Similar to Benfica, Inter need goals in order to progress to the last eight. A 0-0 draw is far better for the away team in the second leg than the home team.
Having avoided conceding an away goal, Eintracht Frankfurt are marginal favourites to progress to the last eight simply because any goal they score on Thursday night will force Inter to outscore them.
From a neutral’s perspective, that will hopefully lead to a game full of goals. Being so delicately poised, an early goal of any sort in this tie will force the hand of the opposition and it should make for a very interesting spectacle.
If Inter take an early lead they can’t afford to sit back with the knowledge that an equaliser will put them out, so will have to push for a second. If, on the other hand, Frankfurt take the lead, Inter will have to attack them and will leave themselves exposed in the process. Either way, there should be goals.
0-0s from a first leg rarely stay 0-0 over two legs – it’s never happened since the Europa League came to pass – and it’s unlikely to be the case here.
Verdict: Over 2.5 goals @ 17/20