Mikel Arteta and his squad were waiting in the private terminal at Luton airport well into Monday evening after their plane, which had been due to depart at 4.15pm, was grounded because of adverse weather. They eventually flew just after 9pm.
It meant arrangements for their first away outing in this competition for six-and-a-half years were thrown into chaos, with Arteta being forced to cancel his mandatory media commitments and the prospect of a late arrival in France meaning a hasty change of schedule.
Those duties are, according to Uefa rules, to be carried out by 8pm local time the evening before a game but Arsenal will not be fined on this occasion. The governing body is understood to view the delay as force majeure while noting this was their first such breach. Newcastle received a warning after arriving similarly late before their match at Milan a fortnight ago. Speaking by phone as Arsenal waited for news of their journey, William Saliba played down any negative impact of the extended wait. “Yeah, of course [I’m confident],” he said. “We have to arrive first but tomorrow is another day and we will give our best against Lens.”
Better news for Arteta was that Bukayo Saka joined the travelling party after his latest knock, a blow to the foot that ended his afternoon early at Bournemouth on Saturday, was not deemed serious. Thomas Partey was named in a squad for the first time since 26 August after recovering from a groin injury and will start among the substitutes against Lens, who finished runners-up in Ligue 1 by a point last season.
Arsenal swept PSV Eindhoven aside with a 4-0 win on the opening matchday but, also speaking while kicking his heels in Luton, Arteta warned of a tricky assignment in France’s industrial north-east. “What they did last year is incredible,” he said. “We expect a huge battle tomorrow. We’re more than aware of it. We showed the players everything and we have a huge test.”
Arteta was asked about the furore around VAR officiating in the top flight in the wake of Luis Díaz’s incorrectly disallowed goal for Liverpool at Spurs. “It’s true that with everything that already happened this season, not just in the Premier League but in other countries as well, the pressure is increasing,” he said when it was put to him that VAR is not working in its current form.
“When [officials] explain all the processes of what they’re trying to do it sounds really logical, but in the heat [of the moment], when you’re talking about millimetres and interpretation of other things like the frames of the camera, it’s very, very different. It’s a shame that it’s happening but at the moment I think we haven’t got the right answers.”