ARSENAL blasted through the speed barrier as they racked up their 100th Champions League victory to secure their place in the last 16.
Mikel Arteta had complained that his team have been stuck in traffic all season and struggling to find a bit of open road in their opponents’ penalty area.
But they finally hit top gear last night to leave bewildered Lens stuck on the grid and in desperate need of emergency repairs.
On the fourth anniversary of Unai Emery’s Emirates sacking, the Gunners are once again firing on all cylinders and ready to become a major European force.
It is hard to believe just how quickly Arteta has turned this club around after celebrating his 200th match in charge at the weekend.
And this scintillating victory was arguably the pick of the bunch from a team who are now top of the Premier League and safely through to the Champions League knock-outs with a group game still in hand.
Poor Lens certainly didn’t know what had hit them as they were buried under a first-half avalanche.
Their travelling fans tried to stop the rout by igniting dozens of red flares which they had smuggled into the away end.
But no-one was going to answer their distress signals as Arteta’s vibrant young team ran riot.
It means that Arteta can now give his stars a well-earned night off for their final Group B game in Eindhoven next month and put all his focus on protecting their lead in the Premier League.
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PSV’s dramatic late win in Sevilla earlier in the evening meant that Arsenal kicked off still needing a point to be certain of qualification and a victory to secure top spot in Group B.
And it was clear that Arteta was leaving nothing to chance as he named his strongest available team to get the job done as quickly as possible.
Having suffered a surprise defeat in Lens eight weeks earlier, it was imperative that Arsenal didn’t give their opponents any kind of encouragement this time.
And boy did they follow those orders to the letter.
Kai Havertz almost gave them the dream start Arteta wanted when he headed narrowly wide from Takehiro Tomiyasu’s deep cross.
But having scored his first Arsenal goal from open play at Brentford at the weekend, the £65million German international didn’t have to wait long for his second, bundling in from close range after Gabriel Jesus had pounced on Salis Abdul Samed’s defensive error.
Jesus added a second midway through the first-half, sitting Kevin Danso on the seat of his pants before coolly slotting home.
Saka joined the party when the ball flew in off his midriff after keeper Brice Samba could only parry Gabriel Martinelli’s 24th minute shot.
And when Martinelli made it four with an unstoppable shot into the far corner three minutes later, we were all checking the record books for Arsenal’s biggest European win.
That search intensified in first-half stoppage time when skipper Martin Odegaard volleyed home from another peach of a cross by the overlapping Tomiyasu.
It meant that all five Arsenal forwards had netted in the same half, which surely had to be some kind of landmark.
Last night’s game was exactly five years since the 17-year-old Saka made his Arsenal debut in a Europa League game against Vorskla Poltava.
And just like his team, the young winger has come on leaps and bounds since then.
The England star has become accustomed to being kicked from pillar to post by opposing defenders who simply can not cope with his speed and his skill.
Last night was no exception as his opponents took turns to stick the boot in, so it was a blessed relief when he was replaced by Reiss Nelson midway through the second-half with the game already well and truly won.
Tomiyasu, Aleksandr Zinchenko and Declan Rice were also handed an early cut by Arteta as his thoughts turned to Saturday’s home game against Wolves.
But there was still time for Jorginho to bury an 86th minute penalty after Abdukodir Khusanov had handled in the area.
Everyone at the Emirates is painfully aware that the Champions League is the one trophy still missing from their CV despite qualifying for 19 consecutive seasons under Arsene Wenger.
The ambitious Arteta is determined to put that right but admits that his team are still a long way from giving sleepless nights to the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Yet they are clearly heading in the right direction and this resounding victory will only intensify the confidence in the camp.
That 7-0 win against Slavia Prague in 2007 might be safe for now. But these young Gunners are determined to make Champions League history and Arteta won’t let anyone rest on their laurels.
Source: The Sun
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