Arsenal hammered RC Lens 6-0, clinching the top spot in Group B and advancing to the knockout stages of the Champions League. The Gunners scored 4 goals in a span of 14 minutes early in the first half, added a fifth before the break, and finished things off with a late converted penalty kick. The win combined with PSV’s win means the match in two week’s time in Eindhoven is a dead rubber, which alleviates some of the upcoming fixture congestion for Mikel Arteta’s side.
The Gunners ran their home record in the Champions League this season to 3-0 with 12 goals scored, 0 conceded. Their Group B win marks the 18th consecutive CL group out of which Arsenal have advanced, albeit with a bit of a break between the 17th and 18th time.
Obviously, the story of the evening was the Arsenal attack. It was the first time all season Kai Havertz, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Jesus had all played together. All five scored in the first half. Mikel Arteta may have been onto something when he bought the German in the summer.
It was Havertz who opened the scoring, steering the ball into the back of the net after being the first to react to Gabriel Jesus putting the ball across the face of the goal. Jesus did well to win the second ball after an excellent Takehiro Tomiyasu cross created havoc. That’s goals in back-to-back appearances for Havertz.
Jesus got the second goal, his fourth in four CL appearances this season, with a nifty cutback and finish into the corner after Bukayo Saka had knifed through the defense. I had just finished lamenting the general defending tactic of fouling a guy after he beats you, brought on by Saka getting cut down after skipping past his fullback. I guess that’s why defenders do it. On the goal, none of the two or three defenders near Saka fouled him and the ball wound up in the back of their net.
Saka scored the third, putting away the rebound from a Gabriel Martinelli shot.
Martinelli got the fourth, receiving a Tomiyasu clearance-turned-switch (that may or may not have been intentional), carrying the ball 30 yards into the box, and turning his man inside out to create the space to fire in at the far post.
Martin Ødegaard made it five with a first touch, on-the-run volley, back across the goal towards the side that Saka had expertly served in the cross. Saka’s goal and assist make him just the third player since 2003-04 to score and assist in three consecutive home Champions League matches. That’s a bit of a niche stat, but anything that puts you on a list with Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez is impressive.
Jorginho converted a penalty late in the second half for the sixth goal.
Takehiro Tomiyasu was fantastic on the evening. He was so good in his first season at Arsenal, one of the standout players from a decidedly mixed season. He was essentially a non-factor last year due to injuries. The combination of a healthy, in form Tomiyasu and Ben White is the best right back duo in the Premier League.
There were two “disappointing” aspects to the performance. The first is that Arsenal let off the gas and didn’t push to set a new Champions League scoring record of 9-0. It was within reach if they wanted to go for it.
The second is that neither Myles Lewis-Skelly nor Ethan Nwaneri were handed a Champions League debut. Mikel Arteta made the right call for Arsenal’s season — playing rotational players to keep them fit and sharp was the pragmatic thing to do. Playing the kids was the fun thing to do. Hopefully both make the trip to Eindhoven and see some action.
After a bit of a wobble away to RC Lens, Arsenal took care of business in the Champions League. They won the group comfortably and before the final fixture. Not bad for a young side most of whose key players had never played in the competition before this season.