Champions League: Arsenal beaten in Lens, which establishes itself as a hostile land for the big European clubs

In Lens (Pas-de-Calais), the Racing Club may not play the Champions League often but it is inspired by the big European evenings

Champions League: Arsenal beaten in Lens, which establishes itself as a hostile land for the big European clubs

In Lens (Pas-de-Calais), the Racing Club may not play the Champions League often but it is inspired by the big European evenings. Tuesday October 3, the vice-champion of France achieved one of the greatest feats of its modest history in the toughest continental club competition. Led (0-1) by Arsenal – vice-champion of England – the Lensois overturned the score to win (2-1), thanks to goals from Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi.

“I feel a lot of pride in what the players have achieved. What they did is very, very strong, praised coach Franck Haise, Beating Arsenal in the Champions League, I don't know if it's the greatest match of my career as coach of RC Lens but that will be one of the significant encounters of the period I am currently experiencing. »

At the final whistle, after the final and vain attempts of the Gunners, the Lens scarves were brandished in unison by an ecstatic public, who communicated for a long time with their team. Thanks to this success, RC Lens occupies the head of group B, one point ahead of its unfortunate rival and former leader. Fervent and teasing, the Sang et Or supporters sang, at the initiative of the Bollaert stadium announcer, a refrain in English: “We are the best, we are the best, we are the best. »

Twenty-one years after its second and final participation in the Champions League, RC Lens returns to euphoria with the toughest club competition. In three European campaigns, the third in progress, the Pas-de-Calais club has nevertheless welcomed into its stadium continental legends who have the habit of mistreating their less prestigious hosts. But neither Arsenal (twice), nor Bayer Munich, nor AC Milan, nor Deportivo La Coruna – former terror of the 2000s – imposed their law.

In seven home games now, including four wins and two draws, Lensois footballers have only lost once. A defeat (1-3) against Dynamo kyiv on December 9, 1998, which at the time had eliminated them just one breath away from the quarter-finals for their first participation.

A stadium with a volcanic atmosphere

Because in Lens, the big clubs not only face a team of determined and daring footballers, brilliantly coached by Franck Haise. When the big names travel to Artois, they tackle a stadium with a volcanic atmosphere of 38,000 seats which can accommodate all the inhabitants of the city – around 33,000 in 2023 – with even a little extra, not fries, but a few thousand additional people. “The public transcended us but the players also transcended it,” noted coach Haise, “It’s not one without the other. It’s an osmosis: when one is with the other like that, it makes for great evenings…”

On Tuesday, the Gunners were again treated to all the local folklore with the same incredible fervor as a guideline: the French anthem La Marseillaise played at full volume before the match, then the club anthem, Les Corons by Pierre Bachelet , which gives rise to goosebumps and songs which never seem to end. In Bollaert, the four stands sing. In Bollaert, everyone sings.

All this contributes to making Lens one of the most hostile lands in Europe for visiting clubs, contrary to the legendary local hospitality. A paradox which amuses Romain, a forty-year-old supporter who came to witness the reunion of his favorite team with the Champions League: “The Chtis are warm people but our sense of welcome stops at the four Bollaert stands. » Arsenal cannot deny this bravado.

This sort of European magic which surrounds the Lens enclosure is also embodied in an astonishing statistic: since a draw (1-1) against Arsenal in 1998, the Sang et Or have scored in each of their thirty-three matches played. at home in the various European Cups.

It's starting to look like a tradition and Adrien Thomasson was the first to perpetuate it with a marvelous curling shot, following a no less marvelous subtle and aerial sequence from his attacker Elye Wahi (36th). With this top goal, the former Strasbourg player redeems himself from his mistake in England's early opening score a quarter of an hour into the game. His poorly adjusted pass is in fact at the origin of the first goal of the match scored by the Brazilian scorer for Arsenal Gabriel Jesus (14th).

Before that, in the wake of its public, Lens nevertheless began the meeting “without complexes and without fear”, as one of its attackers Florian Sotoca had hoped at a press conference. The RCL quickly plans an attack and the Lensoise cavalcades follow one another like in a western. The in-depth calls from Lens players are increasing, always in number, like so many banderillas planted in the side of the Londoners. After all, the Sang et Or draw their colors – and their nickname – from the city's Spanish past, a former stronghold of what constituted the Spanish Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Gunners' opening score did nothing to dampen the determination of the locals, in the stands or on the pitch. And the Lens victory was not miraculous, even if goalkeeper Brice Samba was decisive, like an astonishing reflex save on a volley from Takehiro Tomiyasu (66th). At the end of the match, defender Jonathan Gradit replaced his captain with a save on his line in front of Nelson (89th). Enough to deserve its nickname "drill", recalled during the announcement of the composition of the teams by the voice of Bollaert.

“We’re not going to stop there.”

Arsenal came up against resistance from the RCL until the end, who gave nothing since their second goal scored after a superb collective action. Przemyslaw Frankowski makes a “one two” with Florian Sotoca and the Polish full-back centers back for Elye Wahi. The new 20-year-old Lens striker resumes instantly to offer success to his team. Replaced a few minutes later to Bollaert's ovation, the former Montpellier player did not take long to justify the 30 million euros of his summer transfer.

Almost an hour later, Lensois supporters are still celebrating this success – the sound of firecrackers around the stadium bears witness to this. A success that feels like coming back, as Charles proclaims despite his hoarse voice from shouting too much: “We’re not going to stop there. We have four games to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time. »

From October 24, once again at home, the Racing Club de Lens must confirm its excellent start to the competition against PSV Eindhoven. In the event of a second victory in three games, with seven points, the Lensois would be ideally placed before starting the return matches. With their audience behind them, they have no reason to doubt it.