Football Features

Bukayo Saka injury fears add to Arsenal’s woes in Champions League defeat to Lens

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:30, 3 October 2023 | Updated: 9:45, 5 October 2023

Arsenal fans are once again worrying about the fitness of Bukayo Saka after he limped off injured in their 2-1 defeat against Lens.

The Gunners went to France hoping to continue their winning start to their Champions League return, having beaten PSV in their group opener. But for some, one eye will have been on the upcoming Premier League fixture: Manchester City travelling to the Emirates on Sunday.

On history and club stature, some expected this to be an easy ride for Arsenal. All the more so given Lens are currently 15th in Ligue 1. As a result, there were calls for a slightly rotated XI, which included giving Saka a break to ensure he was fresh for Man City.

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Saka has had a tough time of late with regards to injuries, limping off the pitch in each of his past two appearances. At the weekend, Saka started against Bournemouth despite having missed training in midweek following a knock in the North London Derby draw with Tottenham.

But Saka didn’t make it all the way through the win over Bournemouth, coming off with 14 minutes left to play. A doubt once again for the trip to Lens, Saka started and was involved in Arsenal taking the lead.

The England forward capitalised on a poor pass out the back from Lens to play through Gabriel Jesus, who finished coolly. It was the Brazilian’s 16th direct goal involvement in his last 16 Champions League starts, scoring 13 with three assists. He has also scored in four consecutive group stage games in the competition, his longest such run.

For Saka, it was a fifth assist across all competitions, to go with his five goals. He’s the first player in Europe’s big five leagues to score 5+ goals and register 5+ assists across all competitions.

But Arsenal’s lead lasted just 11 minutes with Adrien Thomasson equalising through an excellent curling effort around David Raya, who had put his team in trouble with a poor clearance. It was the first goal the Gunners had conceded away from home this season in what was their fifth game.

And then came the moment Arsenal fans were fearing. In the 34th minute, Saka was seen limping and gesturing to Mikel Arteta that he had a problem, pointing to his hamstring.

Fabio Vieira came on for Saka, but Arsenal struggled to keep any control of the game, as Lens grew in confidence following their goal. Much the better side, Lens went ahead in the 69th minute through star signing Elye Wahi, who had been pretty quiet aside from setting up the opening goal.

It was a well-worked move from Lens and a lovely first-time finish on the bounce from Wahi, past Raya, for just his second goal since joining from Montpellier in the summer — having also found the net against Strasbourg at the weekend.

It’s time to celebrate for Lens, who held on to take the three points; but Arsenal fans will now wait with bated breath to hear the latest update on Saka’s fitness.

“It was an action, it was a backheel and he felt something on that specific action, it was nothing else and obviously he wasn’t comfortable to continue,” Mikel Arteta said after the game, confirming he doesn’t know the extent just yet.

However, according to Norwegian journalist Arilas Ould-Saada, the injury “doesn’t look good”.