It’s hard to know just what went wrong here. Arteta named a seriously strong side against RC Lens, but there just wasn’t any energy or incisiveness in it. It’s a curious case of trying to have one’s cake and eat it too—this one was arguably a dead-rubber match, one we could have coasted through, damn the results—but, instead, Arteta threw everything he had at it…and we still came away empty-handed. Well, worse than empty-handed if Saka’s knock turns out to be something more serious.
We underestimated the situation
Yes, it’s true that Arteta spoke of a “huge battle” in his pre-match press conference, but that didn’t transmit to the players. There was very little urgency or intent in our play from the off, and even the one goal we scored came from a moment of carelessness from our hosts. Saka pounced on it and fed Jesus for the goal, but that only seemed to inspire our hosts rather than cow them. RC Lens’s fans were in full-throat throughout the match, and we didn’t or couldn’t do enough to sap their strength.
Our “full-strength” squad wasn’t good enough
This dove-tails with the previous point. When I saw the lineup that Arteta had named, I was surprised. I had thought that he’d go for some degree of rotation ahead of Sunday’s clash with Man City. To see him go full-strength (or as close to it as he could get) was as surprise. It’s a credit to our opponents that Arteta went that route, but it’s also a demerit to ourselves. Even if Lens are in transition after selling their leading scorer and best defender from last season, our full-strength squad should have been strong enough to at least come away with a draw.
Our starboy, our Little Chili, our talisman. We’ve watched as he’s played just about every available minute over the last few seasons, and it was just about inevitable that he’d come up lame at some point or another. Sure enough, 34 minutes in, he had to come off. Was his substitution reactionary or precautionary? It’s hard to know. At that point in the match, we had the upper hand, so maybe Arteta was simply protecting Saka at the earliest sign of injury. Once he went off, though, we seemed to lose any intent or incisiveness. Neither Jesus nor Trossard was able to conjure anything from what little service was on offer from Havertz, Vieira, or Ødegaard.
Maybe this is the result we needed. Maybe, just maybe, we needed a kick to the groin ahead of Sunday’s visit from Man City. Coasting past Bournemouth last weekend may have made us feel just a little too big for our britches, a feeling compounded by the injuries to De Bruyne and Stones and the suspension to Rodri. Before our match with RC Lens, we may have been guilty of, well, looking ahead of our match with RC Lens, sizing Man City up and sensing that they’re perhaps ripe for the taking. For us to take one on the chin then might be for the best—but our visitors may very well come in having lost three in a row for the first time in living memory, and, well…yeah.
We face the very real prospect of having to face Man City without Martinelli, Partey, or Saka. Even if Arteta has been keeping a fully fit Martinelii or Partey in reserve, they’ll be short of match fitness. Saka may lack that extra bit of incisiveness that’s made him the best in the Prem at his position.
It’s a good thing that we have until Sunday to sort through our various shortcomings. Let’s hope that we can lick our wounds, be they literal or figurative, and get our house in order before hosting our hostile visitors.