Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus (second left) duels for the ball with Lens' Massadio Haidara (left) during the Champions League Group B soccer match between Arsenal and Lens, at Emirates stadium, in London, on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
LONDON - Arsenal blasted their way into the last 16 of the Champions League on a freezing night at The Emirates on Wednesday, crushing RC Lens 6-0 with goals from six different players and ensuring that they qualify top of Group B.
The home side, back in European football's biggest club competition for the first time in seven years, needed one point to secure themselves a place in the knockout stages of the competition. Instead, they swept Lens off the park to secure all three.
"Today we were really attacking and we played to dominate the game - and we achieved that... Today we were really effective," Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta told reporters.
Arsenal have 12 points with four wins from their five games, while Lens, who sit third with five points, can no longer reach the last 16.
Arsenal's Italian midfielder #20 Jorginho scores his team's sixth goal from a penalty past Lens' French goalkeeper #30 Brice Samba during the UEFA Champions League Group B football match between Arsenal and RC Lens at the Arsenal Stadium in north London on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
Arsenal took the lead in the 13th minute with a scrappy goal from Kai Havertz, their late-goal hero at Brentford on Saturday. As Lens failed to clear their lines the ball fell to Gabriel Jesus on the edge of the box and the Brazilian laid it off to Havertz who prodded it in off Lens keeper Brice Samba from close range.
Jesus doubled the lead eight minutes later, collecting a sideways pass on the edge of the box from Bukayo Saka with his left foot, deftly switching back to his right to send the defenders the wrong way, and burying his shot in the corner.
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Saka drove the knife in with a third in the 23rd minute, bundling in a weakly parried ball with his body after a shot by Gabriel Martinelli, who twisted that knife four minutes later with a curled shot that left Lens goalkeeper Samba lunging at thin air.
Arsenal's Brazilian midfielder #11 Gabriel Martinelli avoids the tackle of Lens' Uzbek defender #25 Abdukodir Khusanov during the UEFA Champions League Group B football match between Arsenal and RC Lens at the Arsenal Stadium in north London on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
Some of Lens' disgusted travelling supporters began letting off flares, briefly holding up play.
Gunners captain Martin Odegaard made it five with the last kick of the first half, volleying in a long cross from Takehiro Tomiyasu charging down the right wing.
Lens, last season's Ligue 1 runners-up, stunned Arsenal 2-1 in the reverse fixture, as striker Elye Wahi scored one goal and set up another. But the Frenchman cut a forlorn figure as the mercury dipped in north London.
Arsenal's Ben White (front left) heads the ball during the Champions League Group B soccer match between Arsenal and Lens, at Emirates stadium, in London, on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice sat deep in the second half as the home side defended their huge lead, smothering the visitors' every attempt to find their way into the area.
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After a quiet second half, Arsenal were awarded a penalty after a VAR review when Lens' Abdukodir Khusanov stuck out an arm in his own area in the 85th minute and late Arsenal substitute Jorginho slotted the ball home from the spot to complete a miserable night for the visitors.
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