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Lens logo
Champions League | Group Stage
Oct 3, 2023 at 8pm UK
Stade Bollaert-Delelis
Arsenal logo

Lens
2 - 1
Arsenal

Thomasson (25'), Wahi (69')
Abdul Samed (90')
FT(HT: 1-1)
Jesus (14')
Jesus (90')

Mikel Arteta defends Bukayo Saka decision after Lens injury

Mikel Arteta defends Bukayo Saka decision after Lens injury
© Reuters
Mikel Arteta defends his decision to start Bukayo Saka in Arsenal's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Lens after the English attacker suffers a first-half injury.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has insisted that he has no regrets about selecting Bukayo Saka for Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Lens after the Englishman came off injured in the first half.

For the past two weeks, Saka - who has started a club-record 87 straight Premier League matches - has left the field with knocks against Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth in the top flight.

The England international has shaken off those afflictions with ease on both occasions, though, and he was given the green light to travel to the Stade Bollaert-Delelis for Arsenal's second European encounter of the season.

However, Saka's evening against Lens ended prematurely, as after assisting Gabriel Jesus for the Gunners' opener, the 22-year-old dropped to the turf and had to be replaced by Fabio Vieira just after the half-hour mark.

As Saka gingerly trudged off the field, fears were immediately raised about his availability for Sunday's blockbuster Premier League battle with Manchester City, while questions were also asked about Arteta's management of the player given his recent knocks.

Bukayo Saka in Arsenal training on October 2, 2023© Reuters

The Spaniard did not have an official diagnosis to provide, but he confirmed that Saka had sustained an unspecified muscular problem and conceded that his early withdrawal was a "worry".

"He tried to backheel a ball in the first half and felt something muscular. He felt uncomfortable to carry on so we had to take him off," football.london quotes Arteta as saying in his post-game press conference.

"We don't know anything more. It was big enough not to allow him to continue to play the game and that's a worry for us. He was really looking forward to playing like every player.

"It was a big Champions League night. I painted a picture and the type of scenario we were going to face today and they all knew about it. But this Champions League is so difficult to win away from home. Today we take a big lesson."

When asked whether he regretted his decision to keep Saka in the starting XI for Tuesday's clash, Arteta replied: "No. It was a knock that he had the other day and he was perfectly fine.

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta pictured on October 4, 2023© Reuters

"It was a backheel, an action that can produce that kind of injury. Let's see what the extent of it is and afterwards it's too late. The last few were more knocks than anything else. He hasn't really missed games. We gave him a break against Brentford last week and that was all."

However, Arteta on only offered a curt response when asked if Saka could potentially miss the visit of Man City to the Emirates this weekend, saying: "I have no clue".

Following Saka's exit, Arsenal struggled to penetrate a compact Lens backline and succumbed to goals from Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi to suffer their first loss of the 2023-24 season.

The Gunners have now dropped to second place in Champions League Group B behind Lens, and Arteta is also likely to be working without Gabriel Martinelli for the visit of Man City owing to his hamstring problem.

Jurrien Timber remains out for the long-term with his anterior cruciate ligament issue, but Thomas Partey is in contention to face the treble winners, having made the squad on Tuesday following a groin concern.

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