Arsenal ensured top spot in Group B with a game to spare last night, hammering Lens 6-0.
For all the talk of tactics, low blocks, attacking fluency and all the rest, football can be a very uncomplicated game sometimes. Obviously that goes hand in hand with scoring lots of goals, and this morning all we can do is enjoy the way we went about our business with such efficiency.
Kai Havertz, who was given the nod in midfield after his goal against Brentford, got things going in the 13th minute. It wasn’t the prettiest goal you’ll ever see, but he anticipated a Gabriel Jesus knock-down better than any Lens defender, and poked it home from close range.
Bukayo Saka created the second with a driving run into their box, and even when their defenders thought they’d done enough, he stuck a foot out to guide the ball to Jesus. His fake, touch, and shot were excellent, although perhaps the goalkeeper was beaten a little too easily. Never mind that though, Arsenal were cooking at that point.
The third came when David Raya went long, as he did with most of his kicking last night, aiming it towards Gabriel Martinelli. Havertz, who had his best game in red and white, won it well in midfield and passed it to the Brazilian. His shot was saved, but the ball rebounded off Saka and in to make it 3-0. On the fifth anniversary of his Arsenal debut, and on just his 5th Champions League appearance, he made it 7 goal contributions in this competition so far with one he didn’t know that much about. But you have to be in the right place, and he was rewarded for his endeavour.
Some people will try and tell you that Takehiro Tomiyasu didn’t mean that pass to Martinelli which led to the fourth, but pay them no mind. When you train with him every day, you know what he can do with his pace, but credit to the winger for what he did next. He took it on, drove into their box, checked, and then curled a shot beyond the keeper for 4-0. That made it three goals in six minutes and Lens were toast at that point.
They had a spell of possession, and hit the post with a good effort from distance, but before the break it was five. Saka broke upfield, Tomiyasu made a bursting run to overlap, and his cross was met by Martin Odegaard who volleyed home into the bottom corner to make it 5-0. What a finish, but the way Saka and Tomi showed that much ambition in first half injury time at 4-0 up already was so impressive.
At the break Mikel Arteta changed his fullbacks, bringing on Ben White and Jakub Kiwior for Tomi and Oleksandr Zinchenko, and those were understandable changes. The two going off have been injury-adjacent this season, and the other two – especially Kiwior – needed minutes. And as you would expect, the transition was relatively seamless, I was impressed again with the Polish international’s technical ability and desire to get involved.
The other changes made sense in the context of the season too. I know there were people calling for Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis-Skelly to come on, but Arteta had to think more about who needed to come off, and who might benefit more from minutes as we head into a busy part of the season. Taking Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka off made sense, so Reiss Nelson and Jorginho went on. Taking Gabriel Jesus off was obvious, and it was either Eddie or Trossard with the former getting the nod.
For those young guys, the PSV game might represent a better chance. We’ve won the group, and while I don’t think there’s any way they’re going to start in the Netherlands, they might get off the bench for that one. The reality is that a 16 and a 17 year-old who are still developing probably aren’t going to feature much this season, and if these minutes help Nelson, for example, make a contribution in an upcoming game, that’s the more sensible change to make, but I understand the romanticism of chucking on a couple of Academy kids.
The sixth came from the spot when a Lens player was adjudged to have handled the ball as he whacked Martinelli in the face. Odegaard looked like he was going to take it, but he handed it to Jorginho who slotted home normally, i.e – without that skippity-hoppity run he often does when taking penalties.
So, in our three home games in the Champions League this season, we’ve scored 12 goals, conceded none, and taken maximum points. Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
We had the chance to qualify today and become top of the group and we’ve done it in a really convincing way against a really good side and I think the team right from the beginning showed a lot of aggression and determination to go for the game, everything happened in the right way especially in the first 30 minutes and that was really helpful to win the game.
I think consistently we have shown at home not to concede any goals, and score a lot of goals, that’s a really positive factor, those players need to have those experiences, and believe that we can do it against big opponents, now let’s wait, we have to park it and in February we will know who we are facing and let’s see how we are in that moment.
It does leave room for manoeuvre in the PSV game, and it’ll be nice to go there with zero jeopardy in terms of what the result means. It doesn’t mean we won’t be out to win it, we know what Arteta’s demands are, but that lack of pressure could make for a fun game. All in all, despite that defeat in France, our first group stage back in the Champions League after so long has gone really well, and it’s something to build on for the knock-out stages when we get to that point.
Right, that it’s for now. We will be recording a post-game Arsecast for you this morning, so join us for that – it should be out around midday.
Have a good one.