RC Lens' season took time to get going after four losses from their opening five games but has suddenly been totally transformed by three consecutive wins in an unbeaten run of four matches. A 1-1 draw away at Sevilla in their UEFA Champions League Group B opener was the turning point for Franck Haise's men but Tuesday was undoubtedly the high point for the northern France club.
Les Sang et Or secured a memorable 2-1 victory over Arsenal in front of an electric Stade Bollaert Delelis crowd and the French outfit now find themselves leading their pool after two games. Lens and the Gunners have history in Europe across the UCL and the UEFA Cup but Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi's goals ensured that the Ligue 1 runners-up came out on top this time.
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Gabriel Jesus had silenced the raucous home crowd just 14 minutes in after Thomasson's sloppy mistake had let the Brazilian in but the Frenchman atoned with a brilliant finish 11 minutes later. The game changed in Lens' favor in the final 10 minutes or so of the first half as the vociferous home crowd rediscovered its collective lungs and Arsenal's Bukayo Saka was forced off injured.
However, the hosts' game winner was Wahi who scored a stunning second 21 minutes from time having brilliantly teed up Thomasson's equalizer with a superb piece of improvised trickery. There were a number of impressive performances across the board from this Lens side including Kevin Danso, Nampalys Mendy and Brice Samba, but summer signing Wahi stole the show.
It was the France under-21 international's second consecutive game-winning display having scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 Championnat win away at RC Strasbourg Alsace just days earlier. Wahi was wanted by a number of European clubs this summer including Premier League pair Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea but ultimately left Montpellier HSC for Pas-de-Calais instead.
It is easy to see why Lens feel that they have a special talent on their hands now that the 20-year-old has gotten off the mark domestically and continentally within the space of just a couple of days. The Champions League hymn clearly had an emotional impact on Wahi as he could be seen nodding towards its end pregame and the inspired frontman was a constant menace to the Arsenal defense.
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"To make the supporters happy was what I truly wanted," said an emotional Wahi postgame. "I am very happy. It gave me chills -- I am not used to it. I hope that we will be able to build on this momentum as we put in a great performance here. We know how good [Przemyslaw] Frankowski's crosses are and I knew that he would pull it back. That is what I went for and I got it into the bottom corner. I really hope to experience other evenings like this one -- it has been crazy!"
Working hard alongside Thomasson and veteran journeyman Florian Sotoca in attack, Wahi and all of his teammates performed as one -- in the image of their club's proud former mining region mentality. The man from Courcouronnes provided the touch of magic and clinical ability in front of goal that is needed in games like these and suddenly rejuvenated Lens find themselves top of Group B.
Seko Fofana and Lois Openda were big losses over the summer as they left for Al-Nassr and RB Leipzig respectively but their exists are clearly not the end of the northerners' ambitions. It has taken time for Haise to bed in Wahi and to start to get a tune out of him but the French tactician's astute handling of Lens' record $36.5 million signing has paid off wonderfully this past week.
PSV Eindhoven are up next at Stade Bollaert Delelis and another potentially famous European night awaits Wahi's Artesien side given the Dutch giants' struggles so far with just one point from six. A delicious additional wrinkle is that the game will have a direct impact on the ultra-tight race between France and the Netherlands for fifth spot in UEFA's coefficients with Ligue 1 boosted here.