Arsenal lost for the first time this season, falling to a 2-1 defeat away to RC Lens in the UEFA Champions League, a result that cost the Gunners more than points. Bukayo Saka’s injury was the bigger negative on the night, but there were still three positives, including an eye-catching cameo from forgotten playmaker Emile Smith Rowe.
Gabriel Jesus gave Arsenal an undeserved lead in France, but not for the first time in this young campaign, the Gunners failed to protect their advantage. A sweet strike from Adrien Thomasson preceded a worthy goal from the impressive Elye Wahi to earn the hosts from Ligue 1 all three points.
In the process of losing, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta found out a few things he won’t like. Notably, how one of his favourite players is undermining an increasingly shaky defence. Fortunately, another defender returned and didn’t look out of place.
Positive #1: Takehiro Tomiyasu’s return
It’s been a while since Takehiro Tomiyasu has been handed a start in his preferred right-back berth. Arteta will be relieved the Japanese international just about got through this tough reintroduction with some merit.
Tomiyasu was rarely in the wrong spot at the back. His positional sense is invaluable when the full-back on the other side likes to wander.
While Tomiyasu is more of a natural defender, he won’t pose much of a threat going forward. So it proved in Lens when the 24-year-old spurned a terrific chance from a Martin Odegaard (more on him later) corner.
Ultimately, the positive of Tomiyasu starting was about more than his performance. The full-back positions are stretched thin following Jurrien Timber’s season-ending injury, so Arteta needs to know he can rely on at least one player to provide solid cover.
Tomiyasu offered a reminder he’s that player.
Negative #2: Oleksandr Zinchenko’s defending
Solid isn’t a word that could be applied to Oleksandr Zinchenko’s defending. The left-back in name only is invaluable to Arsenal’s possession game because his comfort in the middle of the park creates midfield overloads and allows the ex-Manchester City player to showcase his deft technique on the ball.
Unfortunately, Zinchenko’s work off the ball leaves a lot to be desired. On those rare occasions when he has to defend like a traditional full-back facing a duel on the wing, he’s found wanting.
Zinchenko was routinely beaten by Lens’ wide man Przemyslaw Frankowski, whose delivery teed up the winning goal.
It also prompted Zinchenko’s early exit for Ben White. A substitution that served as a damning indictment of how much Zinchenko struggled defensively against Lens’ surging wing-back.
Continued on the next slide…