Arsenal cruise into Champions League last 16 after hammering Lens

By Sports Desk November 29, 2023

Arsenal stylishly cruised into the Champions League knockout stages as Group B winners by thrashing French club Lens 6-0 at Emirates Stadium.

The Premier League leaders kicked off needing just a point to reach the last 16 of the competition following PSV Eindhoven’s 3-2 comeback win at Sevilla earlier on Wednesday evening.

Mikel Arteta’s men duly delivered in devastating fashion thanks to first-half goals from Kai Havertz, Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard.

Substitute Jorginho completed the scoring with a late penalty, awarded following VAR intervention for a handball by Abdukodir Khusanov.

A one-sided encounter in north London was marred slightly by visiting fans throwing a lit flare at home supporters in the aftermath of Saka’s 23rd-minute strike.

With first place in the pool emphatically secured with a game to spare, Gunners boss Arteta now has the luxury of being able to rotate his squad for next month’s visit to Eindhoven amid a hectic December fixture list which could determine the seriousness of his side’s title ambitions.

The Spaniard made just two changes from Saturday’s dramatic 1-0 win at Brentford, which moved the Gunners top of the table.

Havertz was recalled as reward for his late winner against the Bees, while on-loan goalkeeper David Raya was restored having been cup-tied against his parent club.

Arsenal controlled proceedings from the first whistle and quickly blew away last season’s Ligue 1 runners-up.

The recalled Havertz, who had already headed narrowly wide, capitalised on static defending to open the scoring in the 13th minute, poking beyond France keeper Brice Samba from close range following Jesus’ nod down.

Lens’ vocal travelling support responded by throwing a pyrotechnic device on to the field before quickly seeing the game run away from their outclassed team.

Jesus doubled the hosts’ advantage in the 21st minute, calmly sidestepping Kevin Danso and coolly slotting past Samba following strong running from Saka.

England forward Saka quickly added to the punishment by finishing with his left thigh on the rebound after Samba poorly parried Martinelli’s initial effort.

That unorthodox finish led to unsavoury scenes as an active flare was launched from the away end into home spectators in the tier above.

Dominant Arsenal continued to shine brighter on the pitch and Martinelli lit up the contest with a wonderful fourth with only 27 minutes on the clock.

The Brazil international raced away down the left flank and then cut inside Przemyslaw Frankowski to curl a sumptuous finish into the far corner.

Arsenal’s first defeat of the season came in the reverse fixture in northern France at the start of October.

On this evidence, most inside the ground must have been wondering how, albeit Lens’ Facundo Medina rattled the right post from distance during a rare foray forward.

That proved to a fleeting moment of positivity for the away side, who went into the break 5-0 down after Odegaard expertly volleyed home Takehiro Tomiyasu’s cross.

Arteta used a more subdued second period to rest some of his star names, with Saka and the outstanding Declan Rice among those withdrawn.

Substitute Reiss Nelson came close to adding to the visitors’ embarrassment but his deflected effort was repelled by former Nottingham Forest keeper Samba.

Lens’ misery was completed four minutes from time when Jorginho calmly sent Samba the wrong way from the spot after substitute Khusanov was punished for handling on review.

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