This is already Rennes' most successful European campaign; next up, continental heavyweights Arsenal come to Brittany.
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The most successful European campaign in Rennes' history continues with an appetising UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie against English heavyweights Arsenal. Although the first leg was originally drawn to take place in London, it has been switched instead to Brittany.
• Rennes recovered from three successive defeats to take Group K's runners-up spot behind Dynamo Kyiv thanks to victories at Jablonec (1-0) and – in a must-win decider – at home to Astana on matchday six (2-0). They then caused an upset by defeating Group G winners Real Betis in the round of 32, winning 3-1 in Seville after a 3-3 home draw.
• Arsenal cruised through from Group E, dropping just two points as they qualified with two games to spare, but they had a scare in the round of 32, BATE Borisov defeating them 1-0 in Belarus before the Londoners turned the tie around with a 3-0 second-leg success.
• Rennes' sole previous experience of English opposition is a 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup semi-final against Aston Villa that they lost on away goals (2-1 home, 0-1 away).
• In contrast this is Arsenal's 25th UEFA fixture against opponents from France, and they have never lost any of the 12 away matches, winning eight. Indeed, they were on a seven-match winning streak until their most recent encounter, a 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League group stage.
• Arsenal have, however, lost two European finals in France to Spanish opposition – the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup against Real Zaragoza at the Parc des Princes (1-2aet) and the 2006 UEFA Champions League against Barcelona at the Stade de France (1-2).
• Rennes earned their first ever qualifying exemption for the group stage of a major UEFA competition by finishing fifth in Ligue 1 last season.
• They have competed in the UEFA Europa League proper once before, in 2011/12, after coming through two qualifying rounds, but went out in the group stage after losing all three away fixtures and drawing all three at home – against Atlético Madrid, Celtic and Udinese. That was Rennes' last European campaign before this one.
• Rennes participated twice in the UEFA Cup group stage, in 2005/06 and 2007/08, but were winless in those too (D2 L6). They finally recorded their first group win by defeating Jablonec 2-1 at home on matchday one this season thanks to a last-minute penalty.
• The subsequent 1-2 defeat by Dynamo Kyiv in Brittany on matchday three nevertheless ended a ten-match unbeaten run at home in the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League, qualifying included, for the French club (W5 D5). Their record at home since then is W1 D1.
• The Gunners finished sixth in the 2017/18 Premier League – their lowest final placing under Arsène Wenger in his swansong season as manager after 22 years. It earned them a second successive qualification for the UEFA Europa League group stage.
• UEFA Champions League ever-presents for 19 successive seasons until last term, Arsenal reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals at the first attempt, going out to eventual winners Atlético Madrid. This season they breezed through their group, an opening 4-2 win at home to Vorskla Poltava preceding four wins and a draw in which they conceded no further goals. That competition record-equalling run of five clean sheets ended at BATE, but an own goal and headers from defenders Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos secured a 3-0 home win and progress.
• Arsenal's one previous UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie came last season against AC Milan, Wenger's side progressing 5-1 on aggregate after winning the away first leg 2-0. It was the first time in eight years that the Gunners had won a European tie in the round of 16 following seven successive eliminations from that stage of the UEFA Champions League.
• The 1999/2000 UEFA Cup runners-up won all three of their away fixtures in this season's group stage before losing at BATE. Their away record in two UEFA Europa League campaigns is W7 D1 L3, with 19 goals scored and seven conceded. Their three away defeats have all been by 1-0 scorelines.
Links and trivia
• Arsenal's former Czech Republic international goalkeeper Petr Čech played for Rennes from 2002–04.
• Current Rennes 'keeper Tomáš Koubek is also a Czech international.
• Several Arsenal players have been affiliated to French clubs: Laurent Koscielny (Guingamp 2004–07, Tours 2007–09, Lorient 2009–10), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Lille 2005–08), Pierre–Emerick Aubameyang (Dijon 2008–09, Lille 2009–10, Monaco 2010–11, Saint–Etienne 2011–13), Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon 2010–17) and Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient 2016–18).
• Aubameyang provided the assist for St-Étienne's winning goal against Rennes in the 2013 French League Cup final at the Stade de France (1-0).
• Two Rennes players have belonged to Premier League clubs: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle 2010–14, Hull 2014–15) and M'Baye Niang (Watford 2017).
• Arsenal manager Unai Emery was the Paris Saint-Germain coach between 2016 and 2018, when Ben Arfa was also at the club. Emery lost his penultimate game as Paris coach at home to Rennes (0-2) on 12 May 2018.
• Arsenal are one of four clubs participating in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 for the second successive season, alongside Dynamo Kyiv, Zenit and fellow 2017/18 semi-finalists Salzburg.
• Rennes are one of four clubs involved in this round of 16 who have never previously participated at this juncture of the UEFA Europa League; Eintracht Frankfurt, Dinamo Zagreb and Slavia Praha are the others.
• In addition to keeping the most clean sheets in this season's group stage (five), Arsenal conceded the joint fewest goals (two) along with Real Betis in Group F.
• The Gunners have used 30 players in the competition – more than any other club.
• There was a change of coach at Rennes on 3 December with the dismissal of Sabri Lamouchi. His place was initially taken on an interim basis by reserve team boss Julien Stéphan, whose first two Ligue 1 matches in charge both resulted in 2-0 wins, prompting the club to give him a deal until the end of the season on 12 December, the day before he led the club past Astana into the UEFA Europa League round of 32. He is the son of Guy Stéphan, the assistant coach to Didier Deschamps of reigning world champions France.
• After two years with Paris Saint-Germain that yielded seven domestic trophies, Unai Emery was appointed as Arsenal manager in May 2018, replacing the long-serving Wenger. The Spaniard oversaw Sevilla's historic hat-trick of successes in the UEFA Europa League from 2013/14 to 2015/16, having assumed control following a four-year tenure at Valencia and a brief stint at Spartak Moskva. He has been in charge of more UEFA Europa League games than any other coach, this being his 68th.