Arsenal manager Unai Emery says he is “excited” by the prospect of winning his first trophy with the club following their 4-3 aggregate victory over Rennes to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
Emery has already won the competition three times with former club Sevilla.
Arsenal were knocked out in the semi-finals of the Europa League last season under Arsene Wenger.
“We can feel the possibility of winning this title,” said Emery.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inspired a Gunners comeback as they overturned a two-goal deficit from the first leg to reach the quarter-finals.
The striker put the Gunners ahead within four minutes, firing in Aaron Ramsey’s cut-back, before setting up Ainsley Maitland-Niles at Emirates Stadium.
He then poked in Sead Kolasinac’s low cross after the break to make it 3-0 as Arsenal joined Chelsea in the last eight following their 8-0 aggregate thrashing of Dynamo Kiev.
Both English clubs are favourites to win the competition after five-time champions Sevilla’s shock exit in the last 16 and Italian giants Inter Milan failed to progress.
Emery sees success in the Europa League as an extra ticket into the Champions League as Arsenal – who are currently fourth in the Premier League – battle to remain above Manchester United and Chelsea in the table.
“The last eight teams are very important teams and it is going to be very difficult,” said Emery. “The Europa League is giving us a big opportunity also to make one way to the Champions League.
“And also, it’s one title. I said to the players, I am excited about this competition. It’s not just because you can get to the Champions League.”
The draw for the quarter-finals takes place on Friday at 12:00 GMT.
Aubameyang shines for Gunners
Despite trailing 3-1 from the first leg and needing to score at least twice, Arsenal remained favourites to progress to the quarter-finals and they got off to a brilliant start.
Alexandre Lacazette, who was eligible to play after a ban was reduced, had a great chance after just three minutes when he latched onto Ramsey’s ball over the top, only to be denied by Rennes keeper Tomas Koubek.
A minute later, Aubameyang did put Arsenal in front when Maitland-Niles cut inside the defender and laid it off to Ramsey, who put it on a plate for the Gabonese striker.
Aubameyang was energetic, efficient and dangerous throughout and it was his willingness to chase the ball down which led to the second goal.
There was some fortune as he appeared to be offside when Ramsey’s threaded pass was kept in on the byeline but with no video assistant referee, Maitland-Niles finished off the move with a thumping header in the centre.
Aubameyang continued to play with confidence – trying an audacious overhead kick in the first half, before poking in Arsenal’s third goal after 72 minutes.
He celebrated by putting on a Black Panther mask which had been stored behind the goal – the latest in his trademark superhero celebrations, which earned him a booking.
Only Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (18) has scored more goals than Aubameyang (17) in the Premier League and the Arsenal forward has now picked up four goals and two assists in seven Europa League games this season.
Sloppiness made for nervy ending
Arsenal are aiming to win the competition for the first time under manager Unai Emery, who won it on three occasions with Sevilla.
There were glimpses of their best football but Arsenal were put under pressure in the second half by the French side, who are eighth in Ligue 1.
Shkodran Mustafi was sloppy when he gave away possession on the right which led to M’Baye Niang’s strike hitting the outside of the post.
Kolasinac had to make a crucial last-ditch tackle on Ismaila Sarr in the box and Rennes came close again moments later when Ramy Bensebaini hit the post, only to be flagged marginally offside.
When Aubameyang tapped in his second goal, it seemed Arsenal had done enough and he should have bagged a hat-trick – he was played in by Alex Iwobi but his chip dribbled inches wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
Aubameyang scuffed an even better chance from six yards out with eight minutes to go, leading to a nervy ending – an equaliser from Rennes would have taken the game to extra time.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s runs caused a few problems but the offside flag once again came to Arsenal’s aid and the full-time whistle was greeted with relief from Emery’s players.
Man of the match – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The mask represents me’ – what they said
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang told BT Sport: “I missed two chances to close the game but the most important thing is that we won and everybody is happy and proud. Rennes were a bit nervous and angry as well but that’s football sometimes and it can happen like that.
“I needed a mask which represents me and that’s the Black Panther. In Gabon we call the national team the Panthers.”
Arsenal manager Unai Emery: “It was a good evening. 3-0 is good for us. We had chances to score the fourth goal and be more calm. I’m very proud of the supporters and players. We worked very well this week. We can be happy.
“We were very competitive over 90 minutes but can do better. We could have had more control of the ball. It’s easy to say here instead of on the pitch.”
Prolific in attack – the best of the stats
- Arsenal are only the second side in Europa League history (2009-10 onwards) to progress after losing 3-1 in the first leg of a knockout tie, after Fulham against Juventus in 2009-10 (3-1 defeat away, 4-1 at home).
- Arsenal have kept four consecutive clean sheets at home in European competition for the first time since April 2009 (six in total in that run).
- Aubameyang has been directly involved in 15 goals in his past 13 appearances at Emirates Stadium (11 goals, four assists).
- He has scored 16 goals in all competitions at home for Arsenal this season; the last Gunners player to get more in a single season was Robin van Persie in 2011-12 (22 goals).
- Aubameyang has also scored at least twice in games on six occasions in all competitions this season; more than any other Premier League player in 2018-19.
- Maitland-Niles was the 12th Arsenal player to score in the Europa League this season, the most of any side in the competition (excluding own goals).
Arsenal host Newcastle in the Premier League on Monday, 1 April (20:00 BST) following the international break. However, they have organised a friendly against Al-Nasr Dubai SC on 26 March as part of a training camp in Dubai.