Arsenal cruised through to the Champions League last-16 as group winners after a breathtaking first half saw them beat Lens 6-0 at the Emirates.
The pressure had been turned back on the Gunners by PSV, whose late comeback win against Sevilla in the early kick-off meant Arsenal needed a point to qualify for the knockout rounds.
And they answered the call emphatically. In fact, it took just 13 minutes in the first half for Arsenal to dismantle their opponents, who had beaten them 2-1 in the reverse fixture in October.
Kai Havertz (13) began the glut, scoring in his second successive game, before Gabriel Jesus (21) doubled. Bukayo Saka (23) – continuing his fine form in the Champions League this season – bundled home the next, but the best came from a fine, solo effort from Gabriel Martinelli (27).
His effort was perhaps matched by Martin Odegaard’s (45+1) brilliant strike on the stroke of half-time, whipping home a thunderous volley. Jorginho (86) then rounded off a statement Arsenal performance from the penalty spot after European debutant Abduqodir Khusanov was penalised for handball.
The result sees the Gunners through as Group B winners with 12 points, with PSV joining them in the knockout rounds. They face each other in the final group game in a fortnight’s time. Lens, meanwhile, have been knocked out of the Champions League.
- Bukayo Saka is the third player on record (2003-04 onwards) to both score and assist in three consecutive home games in the UEFA Champions League, after Karim Benzema (4 in 2011-12) and Luis Suárez (3 in 2015-16).
- Bukayo Saka is the first Premier League player, and second across Europe’s big-five leagues (also Florian Wirtz), to reach 10 assists in all competitions this season.
- Bukayo Saka is the first English player to assist three or more goals in a single Champions League season for Arsenal.
How Arsenal blew Lens away
A 13-minute blitz at the start of the first half saw Arsenal into an unassailable lead. Takehiro Tomiyasu had already sent a number of fine crosses into the area, and the Lens defence almost dealt with this one.
But the looping ball was instead nodded down by Jesus, with Havertz incoming to rifle home past Brice Samba. There was a brief VAR check for offside, but the goal stood.
For the second, Bukayo Saka was the creator. He cut in from the right, with the Lens defence needing two attempts to muscle him off the ball. But after the second, the ball rolled into Jesus’ path. He dummied two defenders before sweeping home.
Team news headlines
- Arsenal made two changes from the weekend’s win at Brentford.
- David Raya came in for Aaron Ramsdale, while Kai Havertz replaced Leandro Trossard.
Three minutes later and Saka was on the scoresheet himself, marking the fifth anniversary of his Arsenal debut. Havertz’s initial shot was well-saved by Samba, but the 22-year-old was in the right spot to see the ball hit him on the legs and into the back of the net.
Martinelli was not to be left out on the scoring frenzy, adding Arsenal’s fourth in the 27th minute. It was a sensational solo goal, initially picking up a raking pass from Tomiyasu on the left wing, before driving into the area and firing home.
Arsenal: Raya (6), Tomiyasu (8), Saliba (7), Gabriel (7), Zinchenko (7), Odegaard (8), Rice (8), Havertz (8), Saka (8), Jesus (8), Martinelli (8).
Subs used: White (7), Kiwior (7), Nelson (7), Jorginho (7), Nketiah (n/a).
Lens: Samba (5), Gradit (6), Danso (6), Medina (6), Frankoweki (6), Mendy (6), Samed (6), Haidara (5), Sotoca (5), Fulgini (6), Wahi (6).
Subs used: Machado (5), Thomasson (5), El Anyaoui (5), Khusanov (4), Pereira Da Costa (5).
Player of the match: Bukayo Saka.
Lens began to find their feet between goals four and five – with the latter coming on the stroke of half-time. It was a lightening quick break from Saka, who fed Tomiyasu on the overlap. It was another fine cross into the area from the Japan international, with Odegaard incoming to volley home a superb effort to round off an equally as brilliant first half.
The second half was an exercise in game management for Arsenal, which they executed to perfection. Lens registered no shots on target after the break as the Gunners came away with a clean sheet intact.
But there was a sixth goal, which came after a fairly lengthy VAR review for a penalty. It initially appeared to be focused on Khusanov’s unintentional elbow into Martinelli, but it was in fact the ball hitting the Lens defender’s arm as he held it across the Arsenal forward’s chest that was penalised for handball.
Jorginho lined the spot kick up for Arsenal, coolly sending the goalkeeper the wrong way as the Gunners cruised into the last-16 with a game to spare.
Merson: Arsenal will be feared in the Champions League
Sky Sports’ Paul Merson on Soccer Special:
“I said at the start I thought they are big players in this tournament. No one will want to play them.
“They clicked tonight – and when they start well they’re hard to beat. They will go a long way in this tournament and they’ll be right up there in the Premier League title race.
“Havertz is a confidence player and he’s playing with confidence right now. I thought he was the best player on the pitch tonight. He was elegant, he picked the right passes and made the right decisions. He’s a top player. I don’t think he’s playing in the right position but he’s still a top player.”
Jesus: We went full gas!
Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus to TNT Sports:
“From the start we were amazing. We go full gas.
“The team performance was top – now we have to keep going because on Saturday we have another big one.
“Playing at home, our fans’ support is always amazing and they push us. Qualifying first is important, so congratulations to the whole team.”
Opta stats –
- Arsenal’s 6-0 win is the biggest ever victory by an English team against a French opponent in European competition.
- Arsenal’s 4-0 lead within 27 minutes was the joint-fastest an English side has ever scored four in a UEFA Champions League game, along with Manchester United v Brøndby IF in November 1998 (who went on to win the competition that season).
- Arsenal became the first side in UEFA Champions League history to have as many as five different scorers (excl. own goals) in the first half of a match in the competition.
- Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus became the first player to score in each of his first four UEFA Champions League appearances for an English team (four goals).
Arsenal host Wolves in the Premier League on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. The Gunners complete their Champions League group stage campaign away at PSV on Tuesday December 12; kick off 5.45pm.
Lens host Lyon at 4pm on Saturday in Ligue 1 while they host Sevilla in the Champions League on December 12; kick off 5.45pm.