Arsenal earn vital advantage with RC Lens rout but tougher tests to come in Champions League

Kai Havertz and Gabriel Jesus both netted in 6-0 win (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Kai Havertz and Gabriel Jesus both netted in 6-0 win (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Far tougher tests await Arsenal in the knockout stage of the Champions League, but the way they have cruised through to the next round should fill Mikel Arteta with confidence.

Arsenal have progressed to the last-16 as Group B winners and they have done so with a game to spare, meaning next month’s trip to PSV Eindhoven is a dead rubber.

Arteta will surely use that as a chance to rest key players during the busy festive period and they certainly earned a night off with this stunning display against RC Lens.

The Gunners were at their brilliant best, dismantling the French side during a blistering opening 30 minutes where they found the net four times.

By half time it was 5-0 and game over, with Arteta’s side becoming the first English team in history to lead by such a margin at that stage of a Champions League game.

Arsenal have struggled to find their attacking groove in the Premier League this season, but in Europe it has been a different story.

After five games, the Gunners have scored 15 goals and this performance against Lens showed exactly why. Unlike in the league, teams have not opted to sit deep against Arsenal in Europe and they have paid the price.

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have been provided so much space out wide to operate in and they have revelled in being left one on one with their opposite man.

Saka helped himself to a goal and an assist against Lens, while Martinelli found the net too. Saka impressively now has three goals and four assists in five Champions League games. Not bad for someone making their first appearance in the competition.

Stopping Martinelli and Saka is the key to stifling Arsenal and, until teams in the Champions League realise that, Arteta’s side will continue to get plenty of joy.

Injuries have hampered Arteta’s ability to play his preferred front-three this season, and Saka and Martinelli looked sharp reunited alongside Jesus tonight.

The Brazilian created the first goal and scored the second, with his movement and link-up play superb during a dazzling first half. How Arsenal have missed him and how exciting could the knockout stage be if he is in this kind of mood.

The Gunners will undoubtedly face far greater tests then. This group always had a ‘Europa League feel’ about it - but credit to Arsenal for getting through with ease.

They will fancy their chances in the knockout stage, especially if games follow this pattern.

Whether it is down to Arsenal being a relative unknown quantity in the Champions League under Arteta, or teams just underestimating them, either way it suits the game the Gunners want to play.