Morning folks. Hmm. That was a…frustrating….evening, methinks. In the immediate aftermath when I was annoyed that we’d lost to an RC Lens side that brought a decent level of press and a fanbase who were obviously super ‘up for it’ as a night in the Champions League that they hadn’t had for 21 years (I saw some women crying on the TV from the home support at the final whistle, such was it how much it clearly meant to them), but I thought weren’t exactly stupendous, I was annoyed that we’d put in such a lacklustre second half that ultimately cost us anything from this game. But in the cold light of day today, when I reflect on this match, I keep coming back to this phrase that happens in my head:
These things happen. Just wasn’t our night.
I can’t get away from that feeling. That’s because the more I think about the chances we had – admittedly not tonnes but we had a fair few that on another night we might have put away – I can’t help but think that this just wasn’t to be and if that match gets played nine or ten times in a row we’re probably winning or at least drawing seven or eight of those times. Lens did a good job of pressing us, but I don’t remember Raya making many saves, whereas former Nottingham Forest ‘keeper Brryce Samba had a game in which people will be patting him on the back and saying “good job man” come the end of the game. There was a save off the line from a Trossard shot, there was a good stop from Tomiyasu on a corner, he beat away an Emile Smith Rowe effort, then iun the dying embers he and his centre half got the job done (just about) from a Reiss Nelson effort.
Arteta lamented afterwards that the game was decided in both boxes and that feels completely true this morning; we just couldn’t find that finish, whereas they profited from what efforts they did have (I think there was also one effort which one of their players swept wide from a cut back, then there might have been one other, but that was about it). In deed when you look at the xG stats, they had something like 0.7 xG and yet managed two goals. At the weekend Bournemouth had an xG of 0.6, to put that figure in to context.
And it had all seemed to start in such a positive fashion too. We named a pretty strong side, Partey came back in on the bench, we controlled the ball and possession and after 14 minutes Saka pounced on a loose pass from their left back to feed Gabriel Jesus, who was impressive in fashioning himself a shot and then drilling it in to the bottom left hand corner. It was a real instinctive finish and when you see him take chances like that, you wonder how he misses some of the sitters he does sometimes. It’s a head scratcher, but it’s one we’ve gotten used to after a season of having the Brazilian up top now.
And for nine minutes after that goal it just felt like we were going to go through the gears and get the ball done. We had all the possession, we controlled the ball against a possession-based team, we just looked better than them. Which is why it was so frustrating to see us concede from a poor ball out from Raya. I like him, he’s a good ‘keeper, he’s probably better than Ramsdale and certainly exudes calmness, but yet again I find myself saying that I’m not seeing that much of a marked difference in his distribution from Ramsdale and if Arteta really does want to have two ‘keepers that he is keeping happy, then it feels to me like we should be giving Ramsdale something other than the League Cup games. Maybe I’m just projecting some biases and some affection for our English ‘keeper, but it was poor from Raya and added to a couple of ropey longer balls against the Scum the other week too, I just think it’s something worth noting for now.
As is our over-reliance on Saka too, who once again picked up another goal contribution in the form of an assist, but who went off shortly after with what looks like a hamstring injury. I get it, we want to play our best players and he is our best player, but we all knew this injury was in the post. I saw some people showing Saka’s minutes and saying that he doesn’t play more than some of the best players in all of the top European leagues, but you can’t just look at the numbers for this story to be accurately told. Against the Scum he was hobbling and we were worried ahead of the Bournemouth game. Against Bournemouth he had to come off because he was hobbling. We know he needs to play more often than not, but when the warning signs are there in the pre game (and Arteta admitted after Bournemouth he took a big knock), then you have to be sensible. Keep him on the bench for last night and bring him on if you have to.
We Brought on Fabio Vieira for Saka and that’s pretty much where it started to not work for us. He had little to no impact and with Trossard inverting on the other side, Odegaard having one of those games where it seems to pass him by and Kai Havertz disappearing in that second half, we played right in to Lens’ hands. They were clinical and took their chances, then just sat back knowing we couldn’t hurt him. To be fair to Arteta he tried to react instantly, bringing on Nelson for a little more directness and ESR for more drive, but Lens were set up to block us and with 20+ minutes to go, we didn’t really look like we were banging the door down. We still created a few chances and Nelson will probably feel he should have scored in the dying embers, but it wasn’t to be and we suffer our first defeat of the season.
It was always going to happen eventually. Nobody can go truly unbeaten and not lose a game in any competition, but it’s just a little frustrating that on a night in which we looked to have so much control, we allowed some defensive complacency to kick in and the result was that we trudge back to England with the ‘L’.
And now all eyes turn back to the Emirates on Sunday. City may be without Rodri and De Bruyne, but this defeat may also hit us from a confidence perspective and with the likelihood that Saka’s hamstring has detatched himself from his body, this feels like it wasn’t exactly a good day at the office for Arteta and his boys.
Back tomorrow with more thoughts about Arsenal and stuff.