Arsenal’s recent 2-1 defeat to Lens has highlighted a concerning dependence on Bukayo Saka. The match at Stade Bollaert-Delelis brought forth the vulnerabilities in Arsenal’s performance, and these issues were closely tied to Saka’s involvement. He played a pivotal role in creating Arsenal’s opening goal, scored by Gabriel Jesus, before being forced off the field due to injury in the 34th minute, shortly after Lens had equalized.

Arsenal struggled to maintain their consistency and offensive threat without Saka. This dependency on him prompted manager Mikel Arteta to take the risk of starting the 22-year-old in France. However, given Saka’s recent fitness concerns and the importance of an upcoming game against Premier League champions Manchester City, questions arose regarding this decision.

When asked if he regretted starting Saka, Arteta responded, “No, it was a knock that he had the other day. He was perfectly fine. It was an action, a backheel, that can produce that type of injury. Let’s see what the extent of it is. He tried to backheel a ball in the first half and he felt something. It was something muscular. He was uncomfortable, and we had to take him off.”

Saka’s absence from the starting lineup was a rare occurrence this season. Before this match, he had featured in eight Premier League and Champions League games, playing 683 minutes out of a possible 720. He had also started 87 consecutive Premier League games.

While Arteta acknowledged that Saka has the experience to know when he’s ready to contribute, the team’s reliance on him remains evident. This is in stark contrast to Manchester City, where rotation is more common among key players to manage their workload effectively.

Arsenal’s return to the Champions League after a six-year absence necessitates better management of the demands of both domestic and European competitions. Saka’s teammates must also step up to alleviate the team’s overreliance on him.

In the 34 minutes he played against Lens, Saka touched the ball 27 times and completed 16 passes. Comparatively, Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz, who played 70 minutes, registered 33 touches each and completed 18 and 17 passes, respectively.

The decision to replace goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with David Raya after Lens’ equalizer also drew scrutiny. Raya’s distribution was expected to be an asset, but a poor pass led to Lens’ second goal, undermining the argument for his inclusion.

Arsenal’s defeat serves as a valuable lesson, highlighting the need for better game management and reducing their reliance on a single player. While this loss makes topping the group more challenging, it remains a feasible goal for Arsenal in the Champions League. However, they will likely require Saka’s contributions, as has become the norm in their recent games.

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