We suffered our first defeat of the season, despite Gabriel Jesus giving us a first-half lead in a fervent atmosphere in Lens on Tuesday.
The Brazilian finished clinically into the corner to fire us ahead against last season’s Ligue 1 runners-up, but they bounced back to score either side of the interval through Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi.
We came close in the second-half, notably through Takehiro Tomiyasu and Reiss Nelson, but Lens battled to take the points.
Gabi silences the locals
At the scene of our first ever Champions League game, way back in 1998, we returned to northern France for our 193rd game in the competition, but our first on the road for more than six years. For Lens, it was the first time they had hosted a Champions League match for 20 years. They created an atmosphere befitting the occasion.
A huge tifo, spanning the height of both main stands, greeted the players onto the pitch at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, and the hosts predictably started with plenty of gusto. Kevin Danso shot wide and Thomasson headed past the post before we began to settle, and we took the lead with our first shot on goal.
Bukayo Saka was alive to a stray pass and moved it on to Jesus. He controlled outside the area, then took the ball on a couple of strides before planting his shot low inside the far post, giving Brice Samba no chance in the Lens goal.
The Brazilian has an excellent record in the Champions League, and after also notching against PSV Eindhoven on Matchday One, this was his 22nd goal in the competition.
Kai Havertz came close to doubling the lead, watching a lofted Alex Zinchenko pass all the way his shoulder onto his left boot, but his volleyed effort was straight at Samba.
Starting in their meeting with us in 1998, Lens had scored in every single home match in European football over the past 25 years, and they extended that run to 34 games with a well-hit leveller.
David Raya’s pass was intercepted and with our defence out of position, Wahi found space on the edge of the box. He cut the ball back to Thomasson, and the Frenchman curled his finish perfectly beyond Raya.
It was the first goal we had conceded on our travels this season, and the decibel levels rocketed once again.
There was further bad news when Saka was withdrawn ten minutes before the break. He was replaced by Fabio Vieira.
We finished the half on the front foot though. Zinchenko found the advancing Leandro Trossard with a wonderful pass inside the full back, but the Belgian’s first touch was heavy, and the chance evaporated.
Jesus had a sight of goal just before the interval, when a deep cross fell to him in space at the far post. He took his shot on the bounce, but it sailed over the bar.
Havertz carved out an opening for Trossard early in the second half. He found him near the byline and the Belgian sat his defender down with a deft turn, but his tame shot didn’t trouble Samba.
Then came one chance for each side in quick succession midway through the half – one taken, one not. First Odegaard’s corner beat everyone in the box, and landed on the boot of the arriving Tomiyasu, but his fiercely struck first-time effort was batted away by Samba. Either side of the keeper and we would have been ahead.
As it was, Lens went up the other end and took the lead with another crisp finish. Przemyslaw Frankowski got away in the right wing, pulled his cross back for Wahi, who smashed home.
Mikel Arteta responded by sending on Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Ben White and Eddie Nketiah,
Smith Rowe had a 20-yard drive parried and Nelson had an effort cleared off the line, but we couldn’t force the equaliser.
We return to domestic action on Sunday, when we take on league leaders Manchester City at Emirates Stadium. Our next Champions League game is after the international break, away to Sevilla, following our trip to Stamford Bridge.
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