Well, that couldn’t really have gone much worse could it?
If Arsenal’s first game of the Champions League group stage against PSV was close to being perfect, then the second against Lens was pretty much a total disaster.
Things seemed to be going so well when Gabriel Jesus struck early, but the Brazilian’s 14th minute strike – which was a lovely finish by the way – was about as good as it got for Arsenal in France.
From that moment on Mikel Arteta’s side preceded to let a game they had in their grasp slip away as they sunk to their first defeat of the season and – perhaps more worryingly than anything else – they also lost Bukayo Saka to injury.
The sight of Saka limping off in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring injury was most unwelcome and it has led to more questions about the way his game time is being managed by Mikel Arteta.
Saka has now failed to finish his last three games due to injury. He’s managed to bounce back from the previous two to be fit for the next fixture. Whether he can do that for Sunday’s game against Manchester City, however, remains to be seen.
“He tried to backheel a ball in the first half and felt something muscular,” Arteta explained. “He felt uncomfortable to carry on so we had to take him off. We don’t know anything more. It was big enough not to allow him to continue to play the game and that’s a worry for us.”
Losing Saka ahead of Sunday’s game would be a huge blow, especially with Gabriel Martinelli also out. You could see after he went off against Lens how much of an impact it had on Arsenal’s attack.
Saka is the man that makes Arsenal tick. He’s their best player. Without him they are not the same team.
That was evident in France and perhaps explains why Arteta seems so reluctant to give the young winger much time off.
There has certainly been a feeling amongst the fanbase that this type of issue was inevitable because of the amount of minutes the 22-year-old was being asked to play.
The calls for Saka to be given a rest have been growing by the week and many are now pointing the finger of blame firmly in Arteta’s direction following Tuesday night’s injury.
Arsenal’ manager was adamant, however, that he had no regrets about starting Saka in France.
“No,” he said. “It was a knock that he had the other day [against Bournemouth] and he was perfectly fine. This was a backheel, an action that can produce that kind of injury. Let’s see what the extent of it is.”
It’s tough to say whether Saka’s recent knocks played a part in this new injury. The fact that it is muscular makes it unlikely, but we’ll never know for sure.
What does feel clear, however, is that Arsenal’s winger does need a bit more protection from his manager.
Does he need to play as many minutes as he does? No. But it’s about choosing the right time to manage his workload.
Personally, I don’t think a Champions League group stage fixture is the time to rest someone like Saka.
Tuesday night was always going to be a really difficult game for Arsenal away from home, so I don’t think it was a mistake to start him in France.
But why did he stay on so long against Bournemouth at the weekend? The game was dead and buried before the hour mark. As soon as the third goal went in, Saka should have been off.
Those are the moments Arteta needs to take advantage of. Managing the squad is going to be so important this season and that was a prime example of the Spaniard wasting an opportunity to act quickly.
Focus will now turn to Sunday and whether Saka can be ready to face City.
He is remarkably durable and always seems to defy the odds when it comes to being fit for matches he is expected to miss. But this one feels a bit different.
Being without him will be a major blow to Arsenal, who really did struggle against Lens after that bright start.
Arteta’s side will have to play a hell of a lot better than they did in France if they are to finally end this woeful record they have against City at the weekend.
I’ll be sitting down with James Benge of CBS for our weekly Inside Arsenal extra-time show a little bit later on today to look ahead to Sunday’s clash and to discuss all the fall-out from the Lens defeat.
That should be dropping around 5pm this evening, so keep your eyes peeled for that.