Champions League: Arsenal fly into last 16 with six-goal demolition of Lens

Dominant performance by the Gunners against French opposition

Arsenal 6 Lens 0

Mikel Arteta could hardly have dreamed of a smoother return to Champions League football. Arsenal are through to the last 16 and, although the spring will surely offer stiffer tests than a weak Group B that they have won with a game to spare, a run to the latter stages will be distinctly possible should they remain this clinical.

Lens were dispatched brutally with five first-half goals, Kai Havertz starting the rout before Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard all joined in. Almost everything they hit went in, allowing the well-deserved luxury of a somnolent second half enlivened by Jorginho’s late VAR-awarded penalty.

PSV’s turnaround win in Andalusia meant there remained work to do. If Sevilla had held on to their lead Arteta’s side would have been guaranteed top spot without kicking a ball, but now another setback would turn up the jeopardy.


Arteta had taken no chances with his starting XI, Havertz earning a return after his weekend heroics and the inclusion of David Raya fully expected regardless of Aaron Ramsdale’s wobbly stand-in display.

Twelve minutes had passed uneventfully when Havertz hung in the air to meet Takehiro Tomiyasu’s cross and sought a repeat. It looked a tough chance to execute but his effort was not far wide. Lens had given up a chance under minimal pressure and it signposted everything that followed. With the next action they defended abysmally in allowing Havertz to go one better.

The finger could be pointed at Kevin Danso, one of the visitors’ three centre-backs, after he offered no challenge against Jesus near the corner of the six-yard box. Another delivery from Tomiyasu had been headed into the air by Salis Abdul Samed and Danso would surely have cleared had he jumped. Instead he let Jesus win the header and Havertz, anticipating well, bundled the knockdown past Brice Samba.

When Arsenal next went through the gears, the lead was doubled and a position among the round of 16 seeds effectively secured. Again Lens’s defending was risible, Danso and Facundo Medina getting in each other’s way after Saka’s attempt to find Jesus appeared to have been crowded out. Eventually Jesus took possession, creating the angle smartly and drilling a slick low finish to Samba’s right.

The pattern continued thus: Arsenal attacked, Arsenal scored. Almost immediately Havertz, found by a long Raya clearance, fed a rampaging Martinelli. Cutting inside Jonathan Gradit, Martinelli uncorked a shot that Samba parried disastrously, the ball popping back off an unwitting Saka and over the line. It went down as an assist for Martinelli but there was clearly more for him here. Next he was located in more space on the left and found a trademark end product, twisting Przemyslaw Frankowski into trouble before ripping an unstoppable strike across Samba. The goal was his third of the season and a welcome boost. Remarkably the half-hour was still three minutes away.

Lens did, at least, look a shade more competent going the other way. Elye Wahi demanded a parry from Raya before Medina, taking aim from range, shuddered a post. But Arsenal were exposing them at will and Ødegaard, volleying in emphatically after Saka had fed the overlapping Tomiyasu in a rapid counter, deepened their embarrassment just before half-time.

Five changes at the interval, three of them for Lens, spoke amply of the game state. Arteta swapped his full-backs, giving Jakub Kiwior and Ben White time in place of Oleksandr Zinchenko and the excellent Tomiyasu.

With Arsenal’s next assignment, back here against Wolves, taking place on Saturday afternoon there was little reason to take chances. Lens, who can still reach the knockout stage by beating Sevilla and hoping Arsenal are in the mood to overcome PSV, host Lyon the same day and it felt inevitable the second period would resemble a pre-season stroll.

There was a sense everyone would gladly have called it a day and, as the hour mark passed, the sole entertainment emanated from the Lens contingent’s admirable efforts to maintain an atmosphere.

Massadio Haïdara’s late challenge on Ødegaard, who took time to get up, briefly raised tempers among the home masses. Even Saka, traditionally worked to the end, was spared the final 25 minutes by Arteta. The substitute Jorginho, profiting from Abdukodir Khusanov’s handball, eventually completed the scoring. - Guardian