The result in Lens tonight, a disappointing 2-1 loss away from home, will probably not go on to have a meaningful impact on Arsenal's season. Certainly, it is going to make their progress to the last 16 of the Champions League that fraction more difficult, wiggle room that might have been there on the road in Seville and Eindhoven that much harder to find. Arsenal should probably still top Group B, they just might not have the opportunity to rotate in the final few games. Then again after Bukayo Saka limped out of yet another game, one would wonder whether Mikel Arteta would have made use of his squad anyway if given that option.
If ever there was a game to give Saka a breather it was this one. That is not to disparage Lens, who rose to the occasion quite magnificently in the Stade Bollaert-Delelis' first Champions League game in 21 years. It is simply that Arsenal's star forward had limped out of his last two games with aches and issues. Arteta was not short on alternates either, even if that meant playing someone like Gabriel Jesus, Emile Smith Rowe or Reiss Nelson out of position. Not for the first time, it seems like the manager is not exploiting his squad, now deeper than ever before, to its fullest.
Those aforementioned options would surely have been preferable to the scenario Arsenal find themselves in after the match on Tuesday, fretting on whether Saka will recover in time for the visit of Manchester City. It is no exaggeration to say that this game could be the pivot point for this season. If Arteta's side had beaten them home and away last season they would have been champions. A win on Sunday would matter for far more than anything that might have happened tonight.
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Now Arsenal must wait. "It was a backheel and he felt something on that specific action," said Arteta, who could only shake his head when asked if he had any indication of the severity of the issue. "It was nothing else. He was uncomfortable to continue."
Bubbling away in the praise for a player of such durability that he holds Arsenal's Premier League record for consecutive appearances, there has been the question over whether this is altogether too much to be asking of a player who only turned 22 last month. In the last three years alone, Saka has played 173 games. When Arteta said last October that the best "play 70 matches and every three days, make the difference and win the game," he seemed to be exaggerating for effect. It is not far off the reality for Saka.
It does not have to be this way. Erling Haaland started each of Manchester City's first 13 games last season but when a trip to Liverpool loomed on the horizon he was held in reserve in the Champions League, even though it meant a goalless draw for Pep Guardiola. His is not the deepest of squads, but he tends to find games where he can hold back three or four players when necessary. Arteta, meanwhile, only managed to give Ben White a night off.
All this might prove to be nothing of any great concern. Saka was back on the substitutes bench in the second half, he did not exactly look like a member of the walking wounded when he made his way off with half an hour played. Perhaps this was ultimately a precautionary measure that will ensure that Saka is ready to attack Nathan Ake at full force in five days' time.
What an unnecessary risk, though, it was to throw Saka in yet again.
Perhaps the most convincing argument for Arteta's approach, though, came from the hour after he was forced into that early change. Without either Saka or Martinelli, there was no one in the Arsenal side to stretch play in behind. Nelson might have added the burst in behind that vanished after that injury, but on more than one occasion he turned on the afterburners to chase a ball he had already punted out of play.
Chances still came the visitors way. Leandro Trossard and Takehiro Tomiyasu were denied in the second half by the exceptional Brice Samba. There was not, however, the Gunners customary exertion of pressure. That was coming from a boisterous Lens support, who inspired their players to deliver on what was one of the biggest nights in their recent history. The same cannot be said for Arsenal, whose decisive moment might well come on Sunday. What a pity it would be for them if they have to play that game without one of their brightest stars.