the Sang et Or aim for a new feat against the Gunners to continue dreaming of the Champions League


During the Group B match of the Champions League, between RC Lens and PSV Eindhoven, at the Bollaert-Delelis stadium in Lens (Pas-de-Calais), October 24, 2023.

Almost two months have ped and, yet, the match is still remembered. For the return of the Champions League to the Bollaert-Delelis stadium, on October 3, after twenty-one years of absence, the Racing Club de Lens (RC Lens) wrote one of the most beautiful pages in its European history. Led by a 20 year old kid, Elye Wahi, the club overthrew Arsenal and won (2-1) in his boiling lair. This success then allowed him to take the lead in group B alone.

When they cross paths with the Londoners again, Wednesday November 29, at 9 p.m., for the return duel of the group stages of the prestigious European competition, the Artesians find themselves in a less comfortable accounting situation. By having obtained a single point during the double confrontation against PSV Eindhoven, they are now in third place, tied with the Dutch (5 points). The Gunners, for their part, have recovered perfectly and occupy the leader’s chair with 9 points, thanks to their two successes against Sevilla – last in the standings (2 points).

This Wednesday’s meeting is crucial for the players of Franck Haise, the Lensois coach. If they win at the Emirates Stadium, they will be masters of their destiny to try to get into the round of 16 of the “Big Ears Cup”. On December 12, they will host the Spaniards. On the other hand, a defeat, combined with a victory for PSV in Andalusia, would annihilate all their chances of still being in the competition in the spring.

“We know that the opponent is stronger than us”

In short, all the points will be good to take against Arsenal, with in mind this third place synonymous with qualification for the Europa League, the lower continental level, which RC Lens would surely welcome as an attractive consolation prize. “On the pitch, the players must not calculate, on my side it is perhaps a little different”recalled Tuesday, at a press conference, Franck Haise.

The 52-year-old technician is fully aware of this: he will face a formidable team in front of 60,000 spectators – including 3,000 “blood and gold” supporters. “We know that the opponent is stronger than us”, he concedes bluntly. However, there is no question of admitting defeat: “We have to raise our level in all aspects of the game, but we come with the ambition of being at least at the level of Arsenal. »

Stung in their pride, the Gunners – who just took the lead in the Premier League last weekend – will be keen to take their revenge after the defeat in Pas-de-Calais. A victory or draw against Lens would automatically qualify them for the knockout stages of the Champions League, a first since the 2016-2017 season.

A complete Lensois group

There are still many reasons to believe in a new victory for the Sang et Or. Franck Haise will be able to rely in particular on his tactics put in place during the first leg, which led his players to the feat. He asked them to press high up the pitch, a system of play which completely surprised Mikel Arteta’s troops.

No matter if the surprise effect no longer works, the Lensois will be able to remember that they had managed to shake up the London team two months earlier. “ It’s a match that we haven’t completely mastered. But if we don’t master everything [mercredi soir] and it looks like it in the end, I’m interested”, the coach had fun saying to the press.

Another reason for hope: the Artesians have not lost any of their three matches against the Gunners in the Champions League (two wins and one draw). The victory of Daniel Leclercq’s men, twenty-five years ago, thanks to a goal from Michaël Debève (1-0) at Wembley, is undoubtedly the one that left the biggest mark on the minds of the supporters.

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As in 1998, RC Lens will not start as favorites against the north London team. The club has in any case regained colors in the championship. After a failed start to the season, Florian Sotoca’s teammates regained their defensive solidity and moved up to sixth place in the standings thanks to a series – still ongoing – of eight games without defeat. The goalkeeper, Brice Samba, has not conceded a goal in Ligue 1 for five games.

Against Arsenal, Franck Haise will also be able to count on an almost complete squad. Only striker Morgan Guilavogui, sent off during the last European meeting in the Netherlands, is missing. Kevin Danso, absent during the last match in Clermont (3-0 victory)East ” apt “ to regain his position within the Lens rearguard. The only downside: Facundo Medina, Florian Sotoca and Salis Abdul Samed are suspended after their yellow cards received in Eindhoven. If one of these three indisputable starters is sanctioned again, he will miss the last match against Sevilla, in two weeks. A match which will once again be crucial for the continuation of the Lensoise continental epic.

Matthew Maine



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