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Europa League: Inter held, Napoli wins big, Benfica beaten

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Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat on the road at Stade Rennais in the first leg of Europa Round of 16 play, while Chelsea hammered Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in a comprehensive victory.

The Gunners put forth a dismal performance in France, with Mesut Ozil the scapegoat again, putting together an uninspiring performance up front. Nacho Monreal gifted Rennais the lead with an odd own-goal and Rennais scored an important third as Ismaila Sarr beat Aaron Ramsey to a header at the back post in the 88th minute. Arsenal would have fancied its chances down 2-1 heading home, but they now have a two-goal deficit to make up.

[ MORE: Arsenal falls to Stade Rennais ]

Chelsea, meanwhile, enjoyed a dominating display at Stamford Bridge, taking a significant lead with them into the second leg in the Ukraine. Pedro scored the opener on a wonderful flick from Olivier Giroud, while Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi added the cherry on top as the Blues were in charge throughout. Chelsea finished the match with eight shots on target and held Dynamo to none.

[ MORE: Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev ]

Marcelo Brozovic missed a penalty and Ivan Perisic was yanked with an injury as a poor Inter performance resulted in a 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lautaro Martinez was fouled in the penalty area on 22 minutes running away from goal chasing a loose ball, leading to Brozovic’s attempt from the spot, but his penalty was low and weak, and Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp dove to reach it for the save. In the 59th minute, Perisic was withdrawn after an injury, replaced by Antonio Candreva. Perisic has been a critical player for Inter this season, playing 2,511 minutes out of a possible 3,240 across all competitions.

Inter was lucky to escape with the draw, as Frankfurt had a goal disallowed in the 50th minute for an interfering player standing in an offside position, while defender Martin Hinteregger missed a wide open header in the 69th minute. Samir Handanovic was required in the 89th minute as he made a fingertip save on a shot by Luka Jovic.

Napoli blitzed FC Salzburg with two goals inside the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-0 win. Arkadiusz Milik found himself free on goal after a beautiful feed from Dries Mertens for the opener just 10 minutes in, while Fabian Ruiz volleyed in Napoli’s second eight minutes later. The Italians found a third just before the hour mark, with Mario Rui’s deep cross headed into his own net by Jerome Onguene.

Valencia grabbed two early goals at home on a brace by Spanish international Rodrigo, but Russian side Krasnodar picked up an important away goal in a 2-1 finish. Rodrigo’s first was a wonderful curler unleashed at the top of the box and finishing in the top-left corner of the net in the 12th minute. He doubled Valencia’s lead in the 24th minute with a powerful low finish on a cross from Toni Lato. The visitors picked up the important consolation just past the hour mark as Viktor Claesson beat Cristiano Piccini to a long ball and muscled the Valencia defender off the ball for a fastbreak finish.

Dinamo Zagreb topped Benfica in Croatia 1-0 on a penalty by Bruno Petkovic in the 38th minute. Benfica held 65% of possession but managed just two shots on target and conceded the penalty when Ruben Dias barged over Dani Olmo in the penalty area.

Sevilla drew 2-2 at home with Slavia Prague with all four goals scored in a wild first half. Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening minute of the match, threaded through after a turnover in midfield to put Sevilla 1-0 up after just 24 seconds. The visitors drew back level in the 25th minute, but Munir El Haddadi put Sevilla back up just three minutes later, volleying home a corner with power. Alex Kral levelled things up again in the 39th minute on a hilarious goal that saw the ball ping off his neck unintentionally, looping into the top corner.

That was all for the scoring, as Sevilla pushed for a winner with nine total shots including four on target, while holding Slavia Prague to no shots on target in the second half. The final result is a win for Slavia Prague who heads home with a pair of away goals.

Villareal went into halftime level with Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 and came away with a 3-1 win after second-half goals from Gerard Moreno and Manuel Morlanes. Moreno headed home Pablo Fornals’ cross in the 64th minute to give Villareal the lead, while Morlanes blasted his low effort through traffic in the 71st minute to seal the win. Sardar Azmoun and Vicente Iborra had cancelled each other out in the first half.

Stade Rennes beats Arsenal in first leg (video)

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  • Iwobi scores within three minutes
  • Sokratis sent off after second yellow
  • Bourigeaud scores terrific equalizer
  • Monreal own goal puts Rennes in front

Benjamin Bourigeaud and Ismaila Sarr scored and Arsenal conceded an own goal in a soft 3-1 loss to Stade Rennes at Rhazoan Park in the first leg of the Europa League’s Round of 16 on Thursday.

Alex Iwobi scored what could be a critical away goal should Arsenal regroup for Thursday’s second leg at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It started so well, with Iwobi’s mishit cross skipping off the post and into the goal following a 1-2 with Nacho Monreal in the 4th minute.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos then saw yellow for a foul on the edge of the area, a precursor to his sending off under 10 minutes later.

Hatem Ben Arfa sent Ismaila Sarr toward Sokratis, and the Greek defender took down the young Senegalese striker for his second yellow.

That’s when Rennes struck, with Bourigeaud collecting a free kick rebound off the wall and sending a beauty past Petr Cech.

Beauty may be an understatement.

Monreal turned a Mehdi Zeffane cross into his own goal to give Rennes its first lead of the afternoon.

James Lea Siliki completed the scoring with a cross that Sarr turned beyond Cech with a strong header.

Aguero hits three, Man City sinks Arsenal (video)

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  • Aguero nets 10th PL hat trick
  • Sterling influential in win
  • Koscielny scores for Arsenal
  • City outshoots Arsenal 19-4

Manchester City put a little more heat on Liverpool with a 3-1 defeat of Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.Sergio Aguero scores all three City goals as the club went second, two points back of Liverpool. The Reds play West Ham on Monday.

Arsenal is now sixth, a point back of Manchester United following the Red Devils defeat of Leicester City.

Aguero is one league hat trick away from matching Alan Shearer’s Premier League record of 11.

Raheem Sterling‘s two assists put him level with Eden Hazard for the league lead.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Man City raged out of the gates, and Arsenal was very much under siege.

Aguero’s goal happened in double the time it took him to open the scoring at Newcastle, the dawdler, with his 48-second header serving as his 18th goal in all competitions and 12th in Premier League play.

He could’ve won a penalty on an ensuing Kevin De Bruyne ball, and Bernd Leno was busy early.

Arsenal made it 1-1 via a corner kick. Nacho Monreal beat Bernardo Silva to flick Sead Kolasinac‘s service back post, where Koscielny darted in front of Kevin De Bruyne to head home. Insane start.

Nicolas Otamendi stung an 18th minute shot at Leno, who caught it on the hop.

The teams continued to excite over the next 35 minutes, but few scoring chances really challenged either keeper.

That changed with Aguero’s second, as Raheem Sterling was key to a fluid team goal. The English winger took a diagonal dime from Fernandinho before working a 1-2 and passing across for Aguero to finish his 13th league goal.

De Bruyne then just missed a sliding Sterling with a spinning pass to the back post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Leno made a fine stop on De Bruyne 10 minutes into a second half that began with plenty of City control.

Sterling was excellent in the build-up to Aguero’s hat trick goal, his cross taking a turn off Leno before hitting the Argentine’s arm and skittering across the line.

Arsenal fears broken jaw for Koscielny

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Things are getting worse for Arsenal on the injury front as their defensive line continues to take hits from all angles.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery said they fear Laurent Koscielny has suffered a broken jaw after a clash with Romelu Lukaku in the 3-1 FA Cup loss to Manchester United.

Koscielny departed in the 64th minute after falling hard in a tangle with Lukaku. He received treatment on the field that resulted in a lengthy delay, and it was clear he was struggling with a facial injury.

The Frenchman’s injury is an even bigger blow to Arsenal considering fellow central defender Sokratis was forced off in the first half with an ankle injury from landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge. That, coupled with Hector Bellerin‘s lengthy absence from a torn ACL suffered just a few weeks ago, has left the Arsenal defense in tatters.

It’s not the first time this season that the Gunners have struggled with injuries to their back line. Rob Holding, like Bellerin, is out for the year with an ACL tear. Koscielny himself missed nearly the entire first half of the season after recovering from his own ACL tear, while Sead Kolasinac dealt with a knee injury that left him sidelined for the first three months. Nacho Monreal missed nearly two full months with a hamstring injury, and 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos has struggled with a groin problem for most of the season. Shkodran Mustafi missed three matches in December with a hamstring problem, while Sokratis has been one of the more consistent presences for Arsenal this season, but has had ankle problems crop up this season before his injury on Friday.

Arsenal has even suffered injury problems to its defensive line before this season, with Arsene Wenger facing the same situation in his final few years in charge. Monreal, a left-back naturally, was forced deputized in central defense for a significant portion of Wenger’s final season in charge of Arsenal.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has lost just 1 of its last 14 against Arsenal
  • Arsenal is unbeaten in its last 12 home London derbies
  • Chelsea has won just 1 of its last 9 road matches at Big 6 clubs

A monumental battle in the chase for the Champions League places comes our way from the Emirates as Arsenal and Chelsea meet on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The two clubs are separated by six points, but with Chelsea in fourth and Arsenal in fifth, the pressure is on the Gunners to earn a result and keep the chase alive. Should Arsenal fall, it would leave them with a monumental mountain to climb and leave the door open for Manchester United to mount a chase of its own. If the Gunners prevail, however, they would be just three points back and in prime position to pounce on any more Chelsea slips the rest of the way.

The Blues have yet to sort out the striker position, with Alvaro Morata not expected to start given the rumors of his departure, but with few other options, Eden Hazard has been utilized in a false-9 role of late. Olivier Giroud could be an option off the bench, but his ankle injury might have the final say.

For the Gunners, Mesut Ozil is healthy but was left out of the squad against West Ham last time out and it’s unclear whether Unai Emery will recall the German playmaker. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are both expected to make returns from injuries, bolstering the beleaguered Arsenal back line, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is still struggling for fitness.

What they’re saying

Emery on Arsenal table position: “After our loss to West Ham it is a big difference to be six points behind Chelsea instead of three points behind. But the next match is against Chelsea and the opportunity we have is not the same, but if we win we have the opportunity to be closer to them. And we can then continue our way in the 38 matches in the Premier League. Every player has this ambition.”

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri on winning close games: “We were superficial I think [against Newcastle] because we thought the match was won. Being superficial is one of the biggest problems a team can have, so we have to counter the superficiality. If you are winning 1-0, you cannot think that the match is easy. So you have to kill the match. Then you have to manage the match.”

Video preview

Prediction

These two teams are incredibly evenly matched, and even recent history between these two sides doesn’t give us much to go off. With all the pressure on the home side, Chelsea will likely be content to sit back and frustrate the Gunners, a strategy which has worked against Arsenal in the past. The Blues are excellent off the ball, and will use that prowess to pick its spots up front, finding the right moments to attack. The two teams will score, but Arsenal won’t find the result it is looking for in a 1-1 draw.