Rennes v Arsenal, Roazhon Park, Live on Virgin Media Two and BT Sport 3, 5.55pm
Unai Emery did not pack easy excuses when he travelled to France for Thursday's Europa League first leg with Rennes. The last-16 tie falls at an awkward time for Arsenal, after the north London derby last weekend and just before the Premier League meeting on Sunday with Manchester United, which could have big ramifications for Arsenal's hopes of finishing in the top four. But the Spaniard will not tolerate any talk of tiredness.
“That is not an excuse for us,” Emery said. “We have the habit to play a lot of matches. We played on Saturday, had a day’s rest and then began working for the Rennes match. It is a very important match. We need to do it all individually and collectively.”
Their opponents have had a busy schedule themselves, having played more matches so far this season than any other French team thanks to their progress in the domestic cup as well as their longest European run. But they host Arsenal on the back of a free weekend, the French Football Federation having postponed Rennes' duel with Nîmes to help them prepare for Thursday's match. Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino suggested this week that he would welcome similar assistance from English authorities, but Emery decided this is no time to lobby for help.
“If you ask me if I prefer more time then maybe yes, but for this match we don’t have any excuse because we have had time to prepare well. We have the players to share [the demands] and find the combinations to rest some players and have fresh players to give the best performance in the two matches [against Rennes and United].”
Lucas Torreira is likely to start in Brittany because his sending-off against Spurs makes him unavailable for the visit of United to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also set to start at Rennes, since Alexandre Lacazette is suspended following the three-game ban he received for his red card against Bate Borisov in the last round. Emery said that Aubameyang will be on penalty duty despite having a spot-kick saved by Hugo Lloris in the last minute of the north London derby.
“That was one action in the match,” Emery said. “I still have big confidence in him.”