Arsenal satisfy Carragher *and* Neville as old and new combine in Champions League stroll

Will Ford
Bukayo Saka Arsenal
Bukayo Saka has the most goal contributions in Europe with seven this season

Attractive Arsenal returned against a Lens side that got the memo after Jamie Carragher’s criticism, but there was a bit of the stuff Gary Neville likes as well.

“You’re f*cking sh*t,” sang the Arsenal fans after the fourth went in. They weren’t wrong: Lens are (or certainly were in this game) really f*cking sh*t. You’ve got to wonder how on earth the Gunners lost the return fixture after this 6-0 mullering.

Mikel Arteta’s side didn’t look much like the Arsenal of last season in that game at the start of October, as has been the case for the whole of this campaign, according to Jamie Carragher.

“If Arsenal continue how they are, if this is the Arsenal we are going to see this season, I don’t think that can win the league. When we’re talking about ‘a different Arsenal’ we can see it in stats, but everyone can see it with their eyes. It’s not the same fluidity, the same pace, energy, creating chances, you can see that.”

It was a fair point well timed after the unconvincing win over Brentford on Saturday. The lack of attacking thrust and creativity was particularly notable in that game and gave added credence to Carragher’s comments, which would have been given short shrift after the 3-1 win over Manchester United, or the big victories over PSV Eindhoven, Bournemouth and Sheffield United.

Wednesday night wasn’t the first sign of Attractive Arsenal this season but the opening half was as appealing as they’ve been. The front five – Mikel Arteta’s ideal quintet of Kai Havertz, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus – clicked as well as they’ve ever done and there was a goal for each of them.

Havertz looked like the Bayer Leverkusen version. It was the Jesus of 2022. Saka was energised again. Martinelli was the dribbling menace. Odegaard was playing on that lone plane he inhabits above all others.

Arsenal celebrate scoring against RC Lens.

Takehiro Tomiyasu was excellent as well, providing two assists, and it looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, against a team that may as well have provided balloons, party poppers and cake, such was their commitment to the Arsenal party.

And while praise for the individual displays, as well as the collective, will be tempered because of how bad Lens were, they can take the confidence with them from this game, if not the opposition to play against every week.

Wolves will provide a far stiffer test on Saturday, but Arsenal should be reasonably well rested having taken their foot off the gas in a second half in which they exhibited the qualities that haven’t convinced Carragher this season, but have them as favourites in the eyes of fellow Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.

“Perfect, pretty football is unlikely to win the league unless it’s combined with a doggedness and resilience. They have power about them and functionality that makes them a real threat.”

Declan Rice, Saka and Jesus were all taken off early with a view to the weekend as Arsenal collected a third clean sheet of the Champions League group phase, to go with their six in the Premier League, which have contributed to them having the best defensive record in the English top flight.

Gabriel could be seen celebrating a blocked shot wildly in stoppage time, illustrating some of that “power” and “resilience” Neville has been so impressed by.

Just as they breezed through this game they’ve breezed through this group; an easy one, in truth. But they showed a lot of the old and a little bit of the new to sate the title credential appetites of both Carragher and Neville, and must be in with a shout of winning any competition they’re involved in if they get the combination just right.