The Europa League Round of 16 kicked off last night, delivering drama of the highest quality for the two remaining British teams.
Both Chelsea and Arsenal have made it to this point of the competition at a relative canter, but with the competition kicking up a notch, surprise results can often be the flavour of the day.
Arsenal compounded that theory with a shock defeat to French side Rennes,
who currently lie 10th in Ligue 1. Despite taking the lead through Alex Iwobi early in the first half, Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ dismissal following a second yellow card invited a wave a attack from the French side, culminating in an equalising goal for Benjamin Bourigeaud just three minutes before half time.
The Gunners arrived in France having never lost an away game against French opposition, and with Petr Cech making a succession of important saves, they looked as though they may be able to keep their record intact.
Cech’s resistance lasted until the 65th minute when a Nacho Monreal own goal from a cross gave Rennes the lead before a mistake late in the game allowed James Lea Siliki to break free and provide a perfect cross for Ismaila Sarr to head home and secure the win.
Arsenal will now need to overcome a two-goal deficit to reach the Quarter Finals when they host Rennes on Thursday 14 March.
Chelsea, meanwhile, found the going far easier as they breezed past Dynamo Kiev to give themselves a commanding three-goal advantage for the second leg of their last 16 tie.
Maurizio Sarri’s side looked lively from the beginning, creating a multitude of chances that could have seen them take a three goal advantage into the half time. As it happened, they were only able to manage one goal through Pedro, thanks to a sumptuous backheel from Olivier Giroud.
Chelsea took control of the game through Willian’s superbly curled free-kick from 25 yards out to double their lead in the 65th minute, with a strike that rendered the goalkeeper to a mere spectator, only moving to collect the ball from the back of the net.
The Blues extended their advantage to three through Callum Hudson-Odoi in the 90th minute to head into the second leg with a commanding lead. Chelsea’s dominance was typified by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga’s workload as he was not needed to make a single save in the entire game.