RENNES’ fans brought the flares – but superhero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang provided the firepower that really mattered.
The haze from away supporters’ blazing devices lit just after kick-off had barely evaporated when Arsenal’s chief goal-getter had the ball in their team’s net.
News Group Newspapers Ltd6 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang roars his delight after netting an early opener in the Europa League last-16 second leg against Rennes on his way to a deadly double
And when Aubameyang set up Ainsley Maitland-Niles to make it 2-0 after just 15 minutes, the French side knew their night was going up in smoke.
The heroics were complete for Unai Emery’s side when Aubameyang tapped in his second on 72 minutes – for which he celebrated by donning a Black Panther mask.
When the Gabon star is in red-hot form like this, you have to fancy Arsenal’s chances both in this competition and in their top-four pursuit.
He now has 32 goals for the Gunners in just 53 games.
PA:Press Association6 Wales ace Aaron Ramsey clocked up another Euro tie in his final season before Arsenal's longest-serving player joins Juventus on a free transfer this summer
Getty Images – Getty6 Frontman Alexandre Lacazette tries to evade Rennes defender Damien Da Silva
That is a ratio Ian Wright or Thierry Henry would be proud of – although obviously they netted their many Arsenal strikes over a far longer period.
His assist for Maitland-Niles – who was excellent at right wing-back – should have been ruled offside.
But that does not lessen just how good Aubameyang’s delivery was from the touchline to pick out his young colleague at the far post.
It underlined how Aubameyang is not just a ruthless finisher, nor purely reliant on speed.
He is technically proficient at the top level too. And on his day, a world-class performer.
Reuters6 Ainsley Maitland-Niles pounces to put Arsenal level on aggregate with their second goal of the night against Rennes at the Emirates as they won 3-0
By Aubameyang’s sky-high standards, his form has dipped a little since Christmas – though five goals from 13 games in 2019 prior to kick-off would satisfy most forwards.
His penalty miss against Spurs was a blow – but he exorcised that particular demon with a successful spot-kick in the confidence-boosting victory over Manchester United.
And here, he ripped Rennes to shreds in the first 20 minutes.
Alamy Live News6 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dons a mask to celebrate as a fine brace sunk Rennes
AP:Associated Press6 Not quite everything went right for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the Gabon superstar missed this opportunity against mid-table Ligue 1 side Rennes
True, Julien Stephan’s mob may only be eighth in Ligue Un – even with the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa in their ranks.
But with a 3-1 deficit to overturn from the first leg, this was a tall order for any side.
All the talk before the game had been Stephan’s frustration that Alexandre Lacazette had had his three-game ban cut to two and was therefore eligible to play.
But the pint-sized striker, who was quiet, was the least of Rennes’ problems.
It was Aubameyang they needed to keep any eye on and failed to do so as he prodded Aaron Ramsey’s cross home from six yards.
And after teeing up Maitland-Niles, he killed off Rennes for good by finishing off a free-flowing move, turning in Sead Kolasinac’s inch-perfect delivery.