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So, we reach the penultimate match in Champions League Group B. We sit proudly atop the group with nine points from three wins but qualification for the ‘round of sixteen’, though likely, is not yet guaranteed. However, it’s entirely in our own hands. The Arsenal’s solitary defeat in this group came against our visitors, RC Lens. Prior to match 5, Les Sang et Or sit in third place in the group behind PSV Eindhoven by virtue of their head to head record (a home draw and an away defeat) despite a better goal difference, the Dutch team’s goal difference having been seriously damaged in London..

For any readers seeking background on RC Lens, I refer you to Dr Faustus’ excellent preview of our away fixture in which he provided a detailed review of RC Lens’ history, squad and playing style . They still have strong hopes of qualification for the knock-out rounds but to maximise their prospects they must take something from this game.  RC Lens have a solitary win (that 2-1 against us!) which followed a respectable away draw in Seville (1-1) but that win was followed by a 1-1 home draw and a 0-1 away defeat against PSV. Getting the picture of an obdurate, low scoring side?

The team that was struggling in 15th place in Ligue 1, with 1 draw and 4 defeats at an aggregate score of 4-11, when we faced them in September now sits in 6th place, 11 points behind the leaders, QSG, and only 5 points adrift of the Champions League places. Following the injection of confidence from their victory over the Arsenal, they have been undefeated in Ligue 1 with 5 wins and 3 draws at an aggregate score of 12-2. Good Old Arsenal! While Lens’ overall win rate in Ligue 1 is 38% with 16 goals scored and 13 conceded, their Ligue 1 away form (7 games, 2 wins, 7 goals for, 9 against) has been inferior to their home form (6 games, 3 wins, 9 goals for, 4 against) but looks a lot better after a 3-0 win at Clermont at the same time as Arsenal laboured to an important victory against Brentford. Hopefully that result will give them the confidence to open up to try to get a win rather than try to dig out a draw with trench warfare like Brentford.

The Arsenal’s performances in the Champions League this season have been something of a curate’s egg. The spectacular 4-0 opener against PSV on 20th September was hailed by some as a return to the exhilarating form of last season after a league start in which, despite a series of good results, the football had often been somewhat prosaic and we had seen only brief glimpses of our former fabulous free flowing front footed form. 

After our uplifting opening match in this competition, our visit to Lens proved disappointing. We faced a raucous crowd and energetic team enthused by the experience of a first home Champions League game in 21 seasons. Despite the Arsenal taking the lead after 14 minutes through Jesús, Lens surfed the wave of crowd noise, pressed Arsenal high, took advantage of a Raya error to equalise 11 minutes later and with a largely ‘lifeless performance’ from the Arsenal, scored a second midway through the second half. Our correspondent lamented that ‘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’. Match stats show us to have had 67% possession, 6 shots on goal (vs 3), 11 shot attempts (vs 10), 5 corners (vs 3) and 1 save (vs 6). This match could have ended differently had Trossard or Tomiyasu taken chances before we conceded the second goal. I think we can confidently anticipate the same kind of frustrating evening that caused our correspondent to lament.

The two wins against Seville are key to our current domination of the group. You will doubtless recall that the away victory was the result of two moments of genius from Jesús and a gritty backs-to-the-wall defensive performance once Seville pulled a goal back with over half an hour to go. Martinelli’s opener in added time at the end of the first half was crucial to Arsenal taking command of the game after ‘a first half of few chances, with the counter looking on for both teams. We made it count, they didn’t’. At the end, I certainly felt we were lucky to get out of Dodge with the loot! In contrast, our home game against Sevilla was one of our ‘most comfortable Champions League victories’ and the 2-0 scoreline did not reflect our ‘overwhelming superiority’ and ‘almost total control of the game’. 

The very different performances in previous group games suggest that the question of which Arsenal is going to turn up is perhaps more germane than which particular player is going to be selected in goal, midfield or up front. However, two very good performances in the previous home games should instill confidence that we can crack Lens and qualify for the ‘round of sixteen’ with a game to spare.

Our hard-fought but ultimately very satisfying victory over Brentford wasn’t perhaps the best preparation for a midweek game of some consequence in terms of conserving energy but it was probably a good dress rehearsal as I suspect that Lens’ strategy will closely resemble that of Brentford. I expect a deep block designed to frustrate us with quick breakouts when we lose possession at the edge of their box and occasional forays into a high press to try and regain possession close to our goal.  Unless we get an early goal we are probably in for another frustrating evening with plenty possession and multiple iterations of the arc d’ennui. 

Although starting this game would provide a massive boost to the confidence of Aaron Ramsdale, I expect Arteta to restore Raya to the starting XI on Wednesday. Otherwise he might have another insecure keeper on his books. The melancholic waves from Ramsdale at the end of the match are pretty ominous for any confidence in his future prospects at the Arsenal. Ben White will probably regain his starting position alongside our dynamic centre-back duo with Zinchenko pipping Tomiyasu to the left back starting berth for his offensive qualities. A midfield of Ødegaard, Rice and Havertz will back up Saka, Jesús and Martinelli with Tomiyasu, Jorginho, Trossard and Nketiah ready to join the fray as ‘finishers’ in its latter stages.

I expect a hard fought match – Lens have to take something from this game to maximise their chance of finishing second (or higher) – and unless we can take an early lead, I anticipate another frustrating evening. Despite the hopeful title, this is unlikely to be as entertaining or high scoring as the PSV opener but if we can dominate the game as we did in the Seville home game, we should win it. I don’t know what the bookies think but 2-0 to the Arsenal sounds about right to me.

Enjoy the match Holics, whether in the ground or on the sofa with a nice glass of red.


32 Drinks to “Let’s Have Another Spectacle!”

  1. 1
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:


    Nice stuff Baff. I’d happily take 2-0 but any win will do. It would be good to wrap the group up before the last round of matches and be able to give a couple of players a rest, or a couple of players a start, depending how you view that one.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    bt8 says:

    Yellow card above for exceedingly enthusiastic alliteration: “former fabulous free flowing front footed form”. Well done, Bath, and your usual outstanding preview. 👍🏼

  4. 4
    TTG says:

    Excellent and comprehensive preview Bath although you seem a little more pessimistic about the prospective quality of the fare on offer than I am. We’ve blown away our two opponents in the CL this season and one assumes Lens are at a similar level to the other two teams . I think we learnt a lot from the game in France and it showed in Seville where we played more maturely .
    I think your suggested team is spot-on . Havertz might benefit from some consistency in his spot in the team. I’m not sure if he is our best left 8 but it’s the most accessible spot for him and in a game where we could expect to be on the front foot fairly frequently finding fabulous fun filled fantasy football flowing fearlessly ( that’s enough fs – Ed) he should be a different option with his height and ability to hit the box late as he did at Brentford .
    My main concern is that it isn’t as cold as it threatens to be but I do expect us to win and 2-0 looks a good shout

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    À Dieu ne plaise l’arc d’ennui. 3-0 pour moi.

  6. 6
    Trev says:

    Thanks Bath – great job !

    I think you’ve got the team spot on but, like TTG, I’m a bit more optimistic about our possible performance than you are.

    GSD – you mean which side of the Lens you look through … 😳

  7. 7
    BtM says:

    That’s a very thoughtful summary of Wednesday evenings prospects although your looking glass appears to be marginally under the half mark measure regarding the quality of the fare likely to be on offer. I think your eleven, essentially the first team absent TP5, is the one that will take the field. It might be interesting to see Havertz move to striker when Jesus tires with Zinchenko moving to left 8 with Tomiyasu at LB.

    Tickets are falling my way like confetti at the mo courtesy of the East Herts mafia. If anyone plans to enjoy Alcedo prematch, I’ll see you there.

    I’ll be happy with a win of any colour or size. Enjoy, y’all.

  8. 8
    Countryman100 says:

    Very very sad news. Megs Wilson, beloved wife of Bob, co founder and vice President of the Willow foundation, passed away earlier today.

  9. 9
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@8: That is sad news indeed. Thoughts with Bob and the family.

  10. 10
    North Bank Ned says:

    An astute and insightful preview, Bath, as we have come to expect. You are right that, absent an early goal for us to open up the game, it will be a slog against a low block. Teams have learned that they need to play five in midfield against us so both Saka and Martinelli can be doubled up on, and that sets them on the back foot by default.

    The new leaderboard for the GHF Predictathon has now been posted. You know where to find it.

  11. 11
    ClockEndRider says:

    Nice work, Bath. A very informative and thoroughly enjoyable read. Fancy us to be beginning to fire on all cylinders from tonight. They caused us a number of problems in the away leg so we’ll need to maximise our opportunities.
    In other news, it was fun to see Stokecastle on the end of a poor VAR decision last night. Didn’t seem to matter a few weeks ago. Ah well, as we know, “it all evens out over a season”!

  12. 12
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Bath, a fine preview of a game I’ve been looking forward to. I hope we stick it to them 4-0 as a bit of revenge for last time.

  13. 13
    Noosa Gooner says:

    Thanks Bath,
    I reckon that Gabi and Saka need to play a big part tonight. I wonder why they don’t swap wings much occasionally as others have noted here before, even to give their man markers something to think about.
    Anyway, 3-0 will do nicely.

  14. 14
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Enjoyable and thorough preview Bath! Thank you, and thanks for linking to my preview of the away match, Lens was deserved winner of that match. Their record away from home and without the benefit of one is the most passionate crowds in French football is significantly inferior to their record at home. And we must make our home advantage count by asserting our dominance early in the game.

    Expecting a few changes from the weekend starting eleven, in addition to the obvious Raya for Ramsdale (or will Mikel again confound everyone with the GK position and keep Aaron between the posts?) — Havertz or Leo, and White for Tomiyasu who will be brought in as early second half sub for Zinchenko. Hope to see Nelson today getting some minutes.

    A win and we are guaranteed to top the group. That alone should motivate the team.

    Come on Arsenal!

  15. 15
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks fellas. I’m not at all glass half empty. I do think we will win but I don’t think it’ll be a walkover. A spectacular high-scoring victory would be very welcome but the evidence suggests that Lens are not the kind of team to give us the time or space to facilitate that.

    This piece “What VAR is denying match-going fans far outweighs what it is giving them back” by Tim Spiers in the Athletic (£) is a superb analysis of how the football fan experience has been tarnished by VAR. It’s worth the recent cut-price subscription on its own, if you’re so inclined:


    An extract:

    “Yes, the worst kind of on-field errors by officials are now (mostly) wiped out, but when mistakes are still so plentiful and while officials are being held to a higher standard than ever before — perhaps an impossibly high standard now they have all the technology they need at their disposal — the argument for the VAR system only seems to get weaker. What you lose from having VARs does not seem worth what you gain from having it.

    “Football fandom will never be the same again. The sport is poorer and so much less enjoyable for it.”

  16. 16
    bt8 says:

    Re: Bathlink @15, the part where it says: “surely we can all unite in agreeing that the best thing about football is celebrating a goal. Or, at the very least, we can acknowledge it is the best feeling/emotion associated with football.

    It induces elation, it makes you hug strangers, it can cause you to completely lose control of your senses.”

    Case in point: When Aaron Ramsey scored in extra time of the FA Cup Final to put us on top against Hull in 2014. Where I was in San Francisco, an entire bar of friends and strangers hugging each other without any cause for concern that VAR might find a way chalk it off. Clear and obvious joy in the faces of everyone present.

  17. 17
    Bathgooner says:

    bt8 @16, he’s right. Been there many times – too many to recall a particular occasion. On the particular occasion you recall, I believe that I shared a high five with BtM, Holic having departed early to help a friend in extremis.

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    Geordie Arabia is discovering that schadenfreude is a two-edged sword.

    Handball is now a technical offence. You probably can not remember the last time you saw an outfielder deliberately play the ball with their hand, but you will have seen refs give dozens of handballs since. By CL competition rules, Livramento committed a handball. Under PL competition rules, it would not have been a handball. That is where the insanity lies.

  19. 19
    Bathgooner says:

    Just wait until they start meddling in decisions to award throw-ins, corners, goal-kicks and second yellows. This will provide almost infinite scope for controversy.

    Roll-up, roll-up come and watch, or rather await, how anonymous bar stewards in black influence and often determine the outcome of a game of kick-about. The greatest show on earth!

  20. 20
    Esso says:

    Cheers Baff!

  21. 21
    Esso says:

    Raya, Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Rice, Odegaard, Havertz, Saka, Martinelli, Jesus

  22. 22
    Esso says:

  23. 23
    Bathgooner says:

    Well, my prediction that this evening would probably be an exercise in frustration against an obdurate, well organised defence was well off the mark. That must be one of the most SPECTACULAR halves in the history of the Emirates era.

    What a performance! Boring, boring Arsenal, indeed.


  24. 24
    OsakaMatt says:

    Your cunning reverse psychology prediction of a tight game has worked perfectly Bath.
    In the blink of a blepharoists eye Lens have been soundly rogered and all is well in the goonerverse. Lots of great things of course but purely personally I loved Saka, Tomi and Ode for the 5th goal – just a masterpiece of precision.

  25. 25
    OsakaMatt says:

    And of course MA resting both fullbacks 45 minutes into a CL game is just funny. I wonder how the Benjamin/ Tomi decision will be resolved for the next game – both have been outstanding at times recently.

  26. 26
    OsakaMatt says:

    A second half stroll as you would expect and rests for Saka, Rice, Jesus. 11-0 in our three home CL games so far – sends a message to anybody really, bring it on.

  27. 27
    Bathgooner says:

    Now, that’s not at all shabby. Lens broken.

  28. 28
    North Bank Ned says:

    Spectacle delivered, Bath.

    I’d happily take that every game.

    No run-out for either of the youngsters on the bench. Arteta fully focussed on senior team minutes management.

  29. 29
    OsakaMatt says:

    Both halves of my glasses are full 😉

  30. 30
    scruzgooner says:

    great preview, baff. and spectacle we got! i was only able to watch the first half, and oh did i enjoy it. we were progressive, framed our play with an eye to score, pressed them into oblivion, and even when they had the ball we were in control defensively…

    love winning like that. COYG!

  31. 31
    bt8 says:

    As of halfway through the second half we had 47% possession. Counterattacking at home to great effect.

  32. 32
    Bathgooner says: