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Despite the fact that it is only a short hop from London to Lens, the team arrived late due to storms over the South-East of England. Quite possibly the result of The Gods laughing at the VAR audio from the Diaz decision on Sunday. 

From the pre-match TV interviews, the travel travails certainly didn’t impact the serenity currently settled over players and manager; Arteta seemed relaxed and positive and this was certainly reflected in his team selection, with only White of the first choice players being rested.


Tomiyasu Saliba Gabriel Zinchenko


Ødegaard (c) Havertz

Saka Jesús Trossard

From the kick off, the Lens fans really created a raucous atmosphere.  This former mining town in North East France has a passionate crowd reminiscent of those in the north of England.  Reacting to this support, from corner which we failed to clear, Danso, hammered past the post. A warning shot.

It took a while for Arsenal to get going, but from the 10th minute we saw the first extended period of Arenal possession with some excellent passing and moving, without necessarily creating chances.  While not succeeding in silencing the home crowd, it notably reduced the volume.  After around 3 minutes where we had the ball almost constantly, winning it back almost immediately when we weren’t in possession, we made the breakthrough. Arsenal pressure high up the pitch resulted in an interception from Saka. Saka passed first time into Jesús who then took the ball wide of the defender and hit it early into the bottom left corner, without needing to take it past the defender. A superb finish. 

Having gone behind, Lens kicked into overdrive and began really pressing Arsenal very high up the pitch. Arsenal managed to play round them on a number of occasions with Saliba and Rice in particular showing just how press resistant, in the modern terminology, they are. Unfortunately, this pressure resulted in our giving away a poor goal. A very poor pass from Raya, looking to pick out Tomiyasu, himself under pressure from a Lens player, led to the opposition winning the ball and breaking. Stretched at the back, their centre forward was able to direct the ball into the path of the left winger to strike past Raya from the edge of the box.   This was totally self-inflicted, and Raya has now made his first significant mistake.   

After 33 minutes, the wisdom of playing Saka yet again from the start was called into question as he had to be taken off, suffering from some kind of leg injury, with Vieira taking his place.  The rest of the half played out with Lens pressing and Arsenal seeking to hold them off.

Half-Time Lens 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal started well in the second half and on 48 nearly scored after Jesús, harrying the defender, won the ball back and passed to Trossard who shot at the keeper. From that point on, Lens really began to dominate. 

On 66 minutes, a rare bit of incisive play from Arsenal led to a corner.  Ødegaard delivered well and Tomi, in oceans of space, hammered the ball low and hard only to see the keeper make a save with an outstretched leg.

Shortly after, Lens delivered the hammer blow. Their right winger, who had caused a problem all evening, delivered a fantastic cross behind the Arsenal defenders rushing back towards their own goal which Wahi guided home beautifully with his right foot with three Arsenal defenders marking space.  This was the signal for Arteta to bring on a number of substitutes in an attempt to inject some energy into what had been a really lifeless second half performance – Nelson, White and ESR for Trossard, Tomi and Havertz respectively. Quite honestly it was all too late and really didn’t succeed in adding a lot of anything, although in the last of four minutes of extra time we had a couple of corners which caused some concern to the Lens fans. For most of the period up until then a combination of a deep block, good organisation and lack of inspiration resulted in watching the kind of horseshoe football we thought we had left behind a couple of seasons ago.

Final Score  Lens 2 Arsenal 1


Given the performance, it is difficult to fathom quite what Arteta’s plan was. He picked a strong team, but there was no energy or dynamism in the performance. Did he instruct them to save energy for Sunday, as we certainly weren’t full of vim and vigour? He started Saka yet again and again saw him come off injured, for the third game in a row, this time walking down the tunnel. Would we have played any worse with some first teamers rested? Did the travel difficulties have an impact?  I guess, we’ll have more of an idea on Sunday.


31 Drinks to “Arteta Under the Microscope in Lens”

  1. 1
    North Bank Ned says:

    That was a superfast report, CER. Yet, you’ve caught the essence of the game and asked the big question, would it not have been better to rest Saka for Sunday?

  2. 2
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks CER, disappointing result but your report is fair. We didn’t play well but to be honest it was exactly the team I would have played so I am not going to complain about the selection. Fair play to them as well as they made it tough for us.

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Very accurate and fair report CER .
    Early in the season it’s hard to work out how good a team is . You need a spread of games, new players to settle in and the early pacesetters to drop to their usual level.
    A lot of Arsenal fans were suggesting we played a shadow side. Cedric was mentioned ( he would have been roasted ) and we needed to front up to a good side . What was disappointing was losing after taking the lead .
    We still had some standout performances . I thought Saliba was excellent, Gabriel sound and Rice looked totally at home. Odegaard has played better but he ran his socks off. ESR, when he came on had more impact than Havertz and Vieira put together .
    I would consider a double pivot in midfield with Rice and Partey and free Odegaard to play forward more . Losing Timber was a great blow. Zinchenko is not a great defensive left back.
    But it’s not the end of the world although we need four points from Sevilla to put ourselves in a good position to qualify.
    We must pray for Saka who will be needed on Sunday

  4. 4
    North Bank Ned says:

    To change the subject, which may be welcome right now, there is a new leaderboard for the GHF Predictathon — and a new leader after Match Week 7, although (spoiler alert) it is one who has been there before.

    Click on the GHF Contests tabs for all to be revealed…

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    Fine report, Clock Ender. Excellent comments by Declan Rice after the game too. *Prays for Saka* and thinks this game could have gone our way so easily if we had eliminated a mistake here and there.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    i.e., “We’re 10 games into the season, another 50 to go,” the £105million midfielder added. “We’re just warming up and getting into our rhythm, but our full focus turns back to the league and it’s a massive game on Sunday.”

  7. 7
    Ollie says:

    Cheers CER. Report very much on point.
    Bring on Sunday, but hard not to be worried about Saka.

  8. 8
    Bathgooner says:

    Superb report delivered at breakneck speed, CER. That’s very much the match I saw. Although we had three good efforts saved by their keeper or thwarted by Lady Luck, we were beaten by a far more energised team and lost two goals and the game through schoolboy errors.

    Every man and his dog now know that we are wide open on our left flank when we turn over a ball high up the field. I am coming round to the view that if we are to deploy Zinchenko’s skills against teams that are a real threat – like for instance our opponents on Sunday – we should play him as our left sided midfielder in the position usually now occupied by Havertz and play an overlapping left back at left back. Didn’t we used to have one of those?

    What we all feared would happen to Saka, has happened. He’s been carrying an Achilles strain. I hope he hasn’t torn it. The effect of his absence on our penetration and threat was there for all to see. Hopefully Jesús will assist in his miraculous recovery for Sunday.

  9. 9
    ClockEndRider says:

    Thanks vm for the kind words, All.
    I tend to agree, Bath, about the left back and use of Zinny as a midfielder. He just doesn’t appear to be a natural defender and we’re currently betwixt and between. I guess the problem for Sunday is that Havertz could be a useful out in terms of being a big guy up front who may be able to hold the ball up when we need to clear our lines. Otherwise for me Havertz would not start.

  10. 10
    Esso says:

    Cheers CER!

    Distinctly unimpressed by Raya, as I was with his performance against Lily White Cunts.

  11. 11
    North Bank Ned says:

    Three things we had confirmed by yesterday’s match, and a question:

    Lens might be a relatively ‘no-names’ team, but that does not mean they are not a very good team; they are, and one could see why they pushed PSG for the Ligue Un title last season.

    Saka is the wellspring of our attack; without him, we don’t offer the same menace. Opponents do not double or triple team Vieira, neither does he have Saka’s starting burst of pace to get clear of opponents in close attendance. Plus, White plus Saka is more than the sum of their parts.

    Finishing in the CL is top-class; mistakes and sloppy defending will get punished. But would Ramsdale, seven centimetres taller than Raya, have got a hand to either or both the shots that scored their goals?

  12. 12
    TTG says:

    Some very good drinks and typically GHF without the silly hyperbole of other blogs . I very much agree with Bath . Zinchenko isn’t a good enough defender to be our left back . I’ve seen him play brilliantly in midfield for Ukraine but I think Partey ( fully fit ) and Rice would be excellent . I think the reason we loaned out Tierney has been confirmed by his latest injury .
    Timber was a huge loss if a player who played less than a game could be described thus .
    As for Havertz playing upfront would that mean dropping Jesus? His goal yesterday was superb and he was brilliant against PSV . Havertz, playing in a team that was one of the strongest in Europe only scored around 1 in every 4 games and had the lowest Xg of a forward player in the Premier League ( ie he missed most of his chances) . I agree we need someone to hold the ball up but we’d sacrifice too much if Havertz replaces Jesus ( or even Nketiah )
    I’d try Smith Rowe at left 8

  13. 13
    TTG says:

    For those interested here is a rogue’s gallery on Xg last season. Bamford was just worse than Havertz . Eddie was depressingly low

  14. 14
    OsakaMatt says:

    Lot of good points above and I would comment but I’m quite busy just now
    after reading Klopp’s comments on replaying the Liverpoo / Spud game.
    My list of Arsenal games to be replayed from last season due to referees
    screwing up is nearly complete and I am confident that we will be retroactively
    named champions once we’ve won them.

  15. 15
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@14: 👍

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@13: if you use Opta’s method of calculating xG, rather than WhoScored’s, the numbers come down a bit. Havertz’s goals to xG difference in the Premier League last season falls from -5.1 to -4.6, for example. I am not sure it undermines the table directionally (and I bet there would be plenty of managers who would bite your hand off to have Mo Salah and 19 guaranteed goals for a season), but it does serve as a reminder that xG stats always need to be treated with a degree of caution.

    The Opta data also show that while Havertz’s goals to xG ratio was -6.8 in the PL over his three seasons at the Bus Stop, it was +11.2 over his four seasons in the Bundesliga. So he isn’t a serial underperformer when it comes to finishing.

  17. 17
    bt8 says:

    Man City lineup v. Leipzig today:
    starting XI: Ederson, Walker, Akanji, Dias, Gvardiol, Lewis, Rodri, Silva, Foden, Grealish, Haaland.
    Subs: Ortega, Carson, Phillips, Stones, Ake, Kovacic, Doku, Alvarez, Gomez, Nunes, Bobb.

    (Gvardiol, Lewis, Rodri, Silva and Grealish replace Ake, Nunes, Kovacic, Alvarez and Doku, who started against Wolves at the weekend.)

  18. 18
    bt8 says:

    Good work Matt @14

    At least we’re not the aggrieved club at thi very moment.

  19. 19
    Bathgooner says:

    Looking forward to that list, Matt. It’s going to take you some time, I’m afraid.

  20. 20
    Bathgooner says:

    I know some are pouring scorn on Klopp for asking for a replay but it’s the only just thing to do given that Pool we’re robbed by the officials and who knows if at 1-0 up how the match would have ended, given the Spuds’ famous resilience to adversity. I know we were similarly robbed by a VAR official last season and the two handballs by Henchoz in the cup final all those years ago still hurt but Arsene famously offered a replay to the Blades when Kanu inadvertently scored against the spirit – not the laws – of the game so, come on Mr Levy, show us how big a man you are.

  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Interesting article about what’s going right at Ipswich Town who just got promoted and are looking like they could get promoted again having lost just one of their first ten matches in the Championship.

    Going Places: Ipswich Town’s Resurgence Under Kieran McKenna

  22. 22
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Excellent review CER!

    A tactically astute coach, setting up his team precisely for this game, and a set of very capable players inspired and uplifted by first home game back in CL after two decades of absence, in a town where the love for the local team runs deep. In occasions like this if we are not at our best, individually and collectively, results like this aren’t a surprise.

    As Rice, who along with Tomi and Saliba were our better performers, mentioned later that the team will learn from this experience. Let’s hope Saka recovers soon. With both Saka and Martinelli absent, our attack doesn’t have the drive and incision to break down low blocks.

    ESR’s cameo was positive too. I think he should get more chances to start compared to Fabio or Havertz now.

    Also agree with TTG and others that Partey – Rice (Rice nominally playing on the left sided #8 role, but moving up and down, like last season’s Xhaka) together would free up Ødegaard much more to influence the game on the final third. Love and admire Martin’s work ethic and defensive discipline but he should stay closer to the front three for much longer of the game.

  23. 23
    Trev says:

    Cheers CER, a fine and speedy job – my reading of same lagging miles behind.

    I have said here a while ago that while Zinchenko does some excellent work further forward, he gives me the jitters – nay, the hump – as a defender. All over the place again and he has to be more measured with his inverting if he isn’t to continue costing us goals.

    After his hoped for confidence boost at the weekend, Havertz was once again ineffective as a creative force and Vieira’s new found musculature seemed to have been left in the travel chaos back at home. Very weak – especially when compared to the efforts made by ESR and Nelson when they were finally allowed on.

  24. 24
    Trev says:

    Although I haven’t seen anything myself there are reports of a strain to Saka’s hamstring. If so he should be left out of Sunday, should miss the entire international break and, if it’s even a grade 1 tear leave him out for four weeks in total to give it a proper chance to heal.

    For a player whose strength is short bursts of speed any hamstring injury should be given at least four weeks. These guys are running at top speed while opponents are trying to knock them off balance. If there’s any sign of weakness that will find it.

    Looked at positively, an injury to a key player forces you to use your squad. Often a good player will step up and leave you with a stronger squad in the long term.

  25. 25
    North Bank Ned says:

    Trev@24: As ever, I defer to your medical knowledge and common sense. We may not win the league or any other silverware with Saka, but we certainly won’t without him. We need him fully fit and functioning for the pointy end of the season. We are only seven league games in. Withdrawing him for however long he needs to get fully repaired while results aren’t defining seems eminently sensible.

    One issue is that we have 8s, 10s and 11s aplenty but are short of left-footed 7s to cover for Saka. I know Arteta has always talked of Vieira as a right winger, but I can’t say that he has ever looked the part. Arteta seems reluctant to play a right-footed right-winger like Reiss Nelson on the right wing, as it would disrupt the inversion tactics, or to throw one of the two prospects from the U21s, Sagoe Jr and Cozier-Duberry (admittedly injured at the moment), into the meatgrinder of league games. Marquinhos might be the one pencilled in for the role long-term, but he is out on loan, so that won’t help now.

    Dr F@22: My worry about playing Rice and Partey together in the way you suggest is that the risk of gaps behind Zinchenko going uncovered increases, and that would offer the benefit of getting MØ8 playing consistently higher up.

  26. 26
    Ollie says:

    Very interesting analysis from Tim Stillman on the goalkeepers over at arseblog.

    What has changed with Raya in goal?

  27. 27
    Esso says:

    I saw that Stillman piece. He has the data to back up his theories but ignores stuff from this season when it comes to assessing Ramsdale vs Raya. Raya never had to play with the very dubious back four, which had Partey at right back, and no Gabriel or Zincenko available. I reckon his short passing would have suffered in that situation as well.

    Overall I think Ramsdale’s been pretty shabbily treated, however I trust Arteta after last two seasons and am prepared to see how it develops.

  28. 28
    North Bank Ned says:

    Ollie@26: Thanks for the link. The numbers show that Raya is a better short-passer than Ramsdale, and there is little doubt that he is the more comfortable of the two playing short or that Arteta wants his keeper to play that way to retain the ball and break high presses (and we should note that the attempted Lens pass was not a short pass by the 5-15 yds standard). All things being equal, short-passing prowess would give Raya the nod over Ramsdale. Stillman lays out that case clearly. What is not examined is whether all things are equal, which of the two is better at the many other aspects of goalkeeping, and what is the relative importance of those compared to being the platform for attacking transitions. I raised a question earlier about whether the taller Ramsdale might have got a diverting fingertip on either of the shots Lens scored from, for example.

  29. 29
    TTG says:

    We never thought of ourselves as innovators playing on the common at age 9 but we were. If we had odd numbers of players we played a ‘ rush goalie ‘ who played for the side with the fewest players and could play all over the pitch . Of course we always could. Now everyone plays rush-goalie .
    I never thought I’d read an article ( by a good writer) about goalkeepers and all it talks about is how good they are with their feet. Football might have evolved but shot – stopping is still the prime requisite of a goalkeeper .
    A couple of seasons ago , pre-Ramsdale , a very famous and successful Arsenal goalkeeper made this point to me after he’d given up on Bernd Leno . He suggested Nick Pope, then of Burnley, as our next keeper .
    Why don’t we take all our outfield players and see who is the best goalkeeper and use them in goal? The world’s gone mad

  30. 30
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@29: Rush goalies, jumpers for goalposts. Is there still honey for tea?…..

    A quick check on the stats for this season, small sample set though that is, shows Raya’s numbers are generally a bit better than Pope’s and both have better numbers than Ramsdale. So had we bought Pope, perhaps, he, too, would be out on his ear now.

  31. 31
    Bathgooner says: