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Arsenal Beat Lens To Reach Champions League Knockouts

by Iliyasu Nuhu
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Arsenal reached the Champions League knockouts as group winners by thumping Lens at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners scored five in a phenomenal first-half display as they reach the last 16 in their first appearance in the competition for seven years.

Kai Havertz, Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard all scored in the first half, before Jorginho added a late penalty.

Arsenal progress from Group B alongside PSV Eindhoven, with Lens out.

“I didn’t even dream like this,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “The team from the beginning showed a lot of aggression and determination to go for the game.

“Everything happened in the right way in the first 30 minutes. That was really helpful to win the game.”

Havertz, brought into the starting XI after scoring the winner against Brentford at the weekend, opened the scoring on 13 minutes when Lens failed to clear a looping ball into the box. Jesus nodded across goal and Havertz showed a striker’s instinct to finish from close range ahead of goalkeeper Brice Samba.

“Scoring goals, playing well, participating in wins – those are positive attributes,” Arteta said of Havertz’s performance. “You saw the reception of his team-mates and the crowd being with him, singing his name. He’s a tremendous player.”

Jesus turned scorer to slot the second past Samba from 15 yards, sweeping home after being set up by Saka’s powerful run between defenders from the right.

Arsenal’s attacking unit was in full flow, illustrated by Saka taking his turn to move from provider to scorer just two minutes and 20 seconds later, steering the ball home after Samba saved from Martinelli.

Brazil winger Martinelli would not be denied and scored the best of the lot on 27 minutes, finding the far bottom corner after cutting inside from the left.

The fifth came in first-half stoppage time, Odegaard perfectly timing a volley from 12 yards following Takehiro Tomiyasu’s excellent cross.

Arsenal are the first side in Champions League history to have five different scorers in the first half of a match.

A more sedate second half followed, before Jorginho added a sixth from the spot following a handball by Abduqodir Khusanov.

It had appeared, around half an hour before kick-off, that Arsenal would progress to the last 16 without kicking a ball – only for PSV’s remarkable comeback at Sevilla to force them to earn their knockout place on the field.

Mikel Arteta’s side started this match as if annoyed at the inconvenience of having to do the job themselves, and wanting to get it done as swiftly as possible.

Through the smoke from pyrotechnics smuggled in by Lens fans, Arsenal were irresistible in the first half and particularly when scoring three in seven minutes.

They also played like they had a score to settle with Lens, a team they had not beaten in three previous Champions League games including the reverse fixture in Group B, which the French side won 2-1.

“Defeats give you a lot of things to think about and take the learnings from,” Arteta said. “Credit to them, they are a really good side who are extremely well coached and make life very difficult for you but today we were very effective.”

Saka, on the fifth anniversary of his senior Arsenal debut, was particularly redoubtable despite being frequently fouled.

His assist for the second goal was his fourth in five Champions League games. No Arsenal player has previously set up more than three in a single campaign.

The early onslaught appeared to put the record Champions League victory margin under threat – set by Liverpool and Real Madrid with 8-0 victories over Besiktas and Malmo respectively – however Lens avoided that indignity and will still reach the Europa League if they avoid defeat to Sevilla on 12 December.

(BBC)

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