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Arsenal vs. RC Lens match thread: take control

The Gunners can establish early control of Group B.

Arsenal FC Training Session - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal travel to northern France to take on RC Lens in the Champions League today. The French side drew Sevilla 1-1 in Spain on Matchday 1 in a relatively evenly matched affair. Lens are back in the Champions League after a 20 year absence, so tonight’s match against the Gunners will be their first home contest in Europe’s premier competition in two decades. The ground is going to be loud, hostile, and a tough place to play.

Fun fact: Lens play in the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, which seats just north of 38,000 people. The city of Lens itself has less than 35,000 inhabitants. The greater metro area surrounding the city has a few hundred thousand people.

RC Lens was Arsenal’s first ever opponent in the Champions League, back in the 1998-99 season. The French side drew the Gunners 1-1 at home and beat Arsene Wenger’s side 1-0 at Highbury. The two clubs met again in 2000 in the UEFA Cup Semifinals. The Gunners advanced to the final, where they lost on penalties to Galatasaray.

It’s important Arsenal win today to cement their hold on Group B. 12 points was enough to advance in 6 of 8 Champions League group stages. An Arsenal win today would put them halfway to that mark after two matches. Of course, the Gunners want to win their group outright — full points from the first two matches helps with that, too.

Arsenal should not take RC Lens lightly. They’re off to a slow start in Ligue Un this season (2-1-4, 7 points from 7 matches) but earned their spot in the CL last year by finishing a solitary point behind PSG for the title. The French side lost two key players over the summer to transfers — striker Lois Openda to RB Leipzig and central midfielder Seko Fofana to Al-Nassr.

The French side signed 20-year old Elye Wahi to replace the attacking contribution, who scored 32 goals in 85 appearances for Montpellier and was linked with several Premier League teams over the summer. Wahi only has one goal in five appearances this season but has tremendous pace that could cause problems for Arsenal’s high line. They signed 20-year old Andy Diouf from FC Basel and 26-year old Angelo Fulgini from Mainz to replace the production in central midfield.

Lens have an excellent, stingy defense. They surrendered the fewest goals in Ligue Un last season and were third-best in xGA. This season, despite the slow start, their non-penalty xGa per 90 is second-best in France. Overall, they’ve conceded 12 goals from 9 xGA, with three penalty goals against.

Lens are happy to cede possession, defend resolutely, and look to score on the counter. As we know, Arsenal can sometimes struggle to break down teams that sit deep. The Gunners push their fullbacks forward and into central areas, often leaving the centerbacks at even numbers (or outnumbered) defending the counter. William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes have shown time and again that they’re up to the task, but they have no margin for error. One mistake or missed challenge, and it’s a Big Chance for the opponent.

Arsenal appeared to be on the verge of an injury crisis, but quick recoveries and problems turning out to be less severe than they could have been granted the Gunners a reprieve. Mikel Arteta should have the full complement of players available for selection minus Gabriel Martinelli, who is still recovering from a hamstring problem, and Jurrien Timber. It sounds as if Thomas Partey is fit enough to at least make the bench following his well ahead of schedule recovery from a groin problem.

Arsenal - Raya, Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Rice, Ødegaard, Havertz, Saka, Trossard, Jesus

RC Lens - Samba, Machado, Danso, Abdul Samed, Sotoca, Wahi, Medina, Gradit, Mendy, Thomasson, Frankowski

WHAT: Arsenal vs. RC Lens
WHERE: Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, France
WHEN: Tuesday, October 3rd 12 pm PT | 3 pm ET | 9 pm local time (GMT +2)
US TV: Streaming on Paramount+.

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