Arsenal gameplan for Lens clear with one eye on Man City test

Arsenal gameplan for Lens clear with one eye on Man City test

Mikel Arteta has previously said his squad is now strong enough to compete on multiple fronts after another ambitious summer in the market — and tonight's game here is surely a chance to prove it.

Arsenal's opponents are fourth from bottom of Ligue 1, and even in a Champions League group stage that has become tediously predictable in recent seasons, there are few more favourable assignments on paper.

The Gunners are in a position of strength in Group B, after thrashing PSV Eindhoven 4-0 at home, while Lens earned a credible draw at Sevilla.

On top of that, there is the small matter of a visit from Manchester City on Sunday, which is undeniably the biggest game of Arsenal's week, perhaps of their entire season.

Arteta's side are flying and they might never have a better chance of finally beating the champions, who will again be missing Rodri and went down to a shock defeat by Wolves at the weekend, with their midfield linchpin suspended.

Arteta, naturally, has said his players will underestimate last season's French runners-up at their peril, but his squad has already been stretched by the club's return to elite European competition, with a succession of knocks and minor ailments, and if there was ever a time to trust his fringe players on the biggest stage, it is now.

"I've been really impressed [with Lens]," the manager said last night, speaking over the phone from Luton Airport, after the squad was stranded for nearly five hours in the private terminal due to inclement weather. "What they did last year is incredible to be within a point of the title. This season they've been really unlucky with some results, so we expect a huge battle."

He added: "First of all we have to know who is available and what is the condition of every player, because we had some issues last week. We will make that call tomorrow."

Bukayo Saka was forced off with a knock for the second game running in Saturday's 4-0 rout of Bournemouth, while Gabriel Jesus was also struggling in the dressing room afterwards.

There is a case for resting one or both tonight, especially with Leandro Trossard fit again and pushing for a recall to the starting XI and Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah desperate for further chances to make an impression.

Declan Rice, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Martin Odegaard and William Saliba are among the other players who Arteta will surely want to wrap in cotton wool ahead of City, although he will believe that racing into a lead before making changes — as against PSV — is safer than significant tinkering with his XI.

Thomas Partey is in the squad for the first time since August 26, and the midfielder will surely need some minutes from the bench tonight if he is to be significantly involved on Sunday.

Gabriel Martinelli and Jurrien Timber remain sidelined, while Cedric Soares is among the fringe players to make the trip. The question is how many of them Arteta will use, with City looming.