We're back in UEFA Champions League action against RC Lens at Emirates Stadium, and we'll be looking to get at least a point to advance to the knockout stages after tasting defeat in France in early October.
If you're unfamiliar with the French side who were unexpected title challengers last term, then we have everything you need to know about them:
Founded in 1906 by local students and their parents, Lens went on to win their first Ligue 2 title in 1937 and have since championed France’s second tier on three other occasions.
Their finest moment came in 1998 when they won the Ligue 1 title for the only time in their history, and subsequently qualified for the Champions League. A French League Cup arrived in 1998/99, and the following season saw them reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup to record their best European run, before they were eliminated by ourselves.
They remained a strong outfit in the early 2000s, winning the Intertoto Cup in 2005 and 2007, but would yo-yo between the top two tiers for the next 13 years. They were in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020 before embarking on their recent renaissance.
Opened 90 years ago in 1933, Stade Bollaert-Delelis has a capacity of 38,223 which is actually 7,000 more than the local population. It is based on a traditional British stadium, with four separate stands with the most fervent supporters based behind the goals.
The stadium has hosted matches in a number of major tournaments, including the 1998 FIFA World Cup where England beat Colombia 2-0, plus the 1984 and 2016 European Championships, where England were again triumphant, this time 2-1 against Wales. The France national team has played at the stadium eight times, and remained undefeated.
Pushing Paris Saint-Germain right to the wire, Lens came second in Ligue 1 last season, just one point shy of top spot to record their fifth second-place finish in their history, and secure just a third Champions League berth.
A run of 10 wins from the final 11 league games saw Lens finish comfortably 11 points above Marseille in third, but a mid-season blip of one win in seven games would ultimately prove costly as they attempted to hunt down the capital club at the summit. Belgian international striker Lois Openda was the star of the season, as he netted 21 goals in all competitions before completing a £40 million move to RB Leipzig.
Head coach Franck Haise has been in charge of Lens since 2020, overseeing the recent period of success. The former midfielder has also managed Lorient B, Change, and Mayenne after beginning his managerial career in 2003.
He had previously managed the Lens' B team after holding caretaker and assistant roles at Lorient, and once in the hotseat guided them to a seventh-place finish in each of his first two campaigns in charge, before last season's unexpected title challenge which was recognised with him being awarded the Ligue 1 Manager of the Year award.
Lens made five summer signings in an effort to go one further in Ligue 1 this season, with the most eye-catching being Elye Wahi from Montpellier for £28 million - a French under-21 international who hit 19 goals in 33 games as he attempts to fill the void left by Openda.
A further £13 million was spent to acquire another, his international teammate Andy Diouf from Basel, while young Colombian defender Oscar Cortes arrived from Millonarios, and teenage Uzbekistan international Abdukodir Khusanov was snapped up from Energetik-BGU.
As well as the loss of Openda, Seko Fofana switched to Saudi side Al Nassr, but fellow Ligue 1 Team of the Year members Brice Samba - who captains the team from between the posts - and Kevin Danso are key reasons why Lens conceded just 29 goals in their 38 league games last year.
Massadio Haidara and Nampalys Mendy have Premier League experience at Newcastle United and Leicester City respectively.
The season so far
This season didn't get off to the best start for Lens, who lost four and drew one of their opening five league games to leave them sitting bottom of the Ligue 1 table. Things looked promising when they found themselves 2-0 up in their opening game away to Brest, but they lost 3-2 and surrendered another lead in the following draw at home to Rennes.
PSG and Monaco then both put three goals past them before Metz claimed a 1-0 away win, however a 1-1 draw with Sevilla in their opening Champions League game out in Spain two weeks ago has helped turn things around. Since then, they have recorded back-to-back victories against Toulouse and Strasbourg to climb to 15th in the table and show shoots of progression again.
Since we last met in early October, when Lens came from behind to earn a 2-1 win against us, Franck Haise’s side have had a positive run of results in Ligue 1. They followed our Champions League meeting with draws against LOSC and Le Havre before putting four past Nantes without reply and drawing 0-0 with FC Lorient.
This month, Lens have earned 1-0 and 3-0 wins against Marseille and Clermont Foot respectively to climb to sixth in France’s top tier. But in Europe, Lens drew 1-1 at home to PSV before losing 1-0 in the return fixture.
The previous meetings
Before this season, we had faced Lens on four occasions, firstly in 1998 when we drew 1-1 away from home in the first Champions League match for both teams, when Marc Overmars netted our maiden goal in the competition. Later in those group stages, they beat us 1-0 at Wembley Stadium as Ray Parlour was sent off in the 90th minute. Both teams finished the group stage on eight points and were eliminated.
Then in April 2000, we were paired together in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup. Dennis Bergkamp’s second-minute strike saw us win 1-0 at Highbury in the first leg, and we completed the job with a 2-1 away win thanks to goals from Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu to set up a final meeting with Galatasaray.
Gabriel Jesus gave us the lead in October's meeting at Lens, but Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi both got on the scoresheet to turn the game around.