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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

PSG's trashing of Lens is a warning to Arsenal ahead of their crunch game against Man City


From Alessandro Schiavone at Parc des Princes, Paris


PSG 3-1 Lens


Goals: Mbappé, Vitinha, Messi (PSG), Frankowski (Lens)

 

PSG made light work of Lens with a 3-1 victory at Parc des Princes to go nine points clear of today’s opponents.

 

First-half goals by Kylian Mbappe, Vitinha and Lionel Messi all but killed the hosts' slim hopes of pipping the Parisians to the title. 

 

Yet if the gulf between France’s leading teams is substantial, there’s no such risk of an opening half capitulation by Man City when they host table toppers Arsenal in less than two weeks at the Etihad. The visitors, who could have gone within three points of Paris with a win, started brightly but understandably faded after Abdul Samed was sent off for a reckless lunging challenge on Hakimi’s ankle. Yet if their English opposite numbers Man City faced a similar challenge in which they had to cope with being a man down against Arsenal they would more than hold their own and still fancy their chances. That tells you everything you need to know about the (non-existent) title race in France’s top-flight. It can happen that the filthy-rich capital club have a season off like in 2017 or 2021 but more often than not the title ends up at Camp des Loges.

 

After all, Ligue 1 is light-years behind the English top division in terms of competitiveness and attractiveness. It’s worth remembering that nobody compares Lens, this year’s Ligue 1 revelation, to Pep Guardiola’s serial winners. Sotoca isn’t Foden, Openda is nowhere near Haaland and not just because he skied his overhead kick in injury-time last night. The only players we could fairly compare are Rodri and Seko Fofana but even in that case the Spaniard is on another level and the Ivorian wouldn’t get into City’s XI. Yet this is just to explain how far apart the two leagues are. If Man City would win the French title hands down (and probably go a season unbeaten on French soil), for all their remarkable achievements Lens would even struggle to finish in the upper reaches of the table in England. Arsenal are top of pile in England and would destroy French football but so would Newcastle United, Manchester United and with a bit of consistency Spurs. Roberto De Zerbi’s high-flying Brighton and Hove Albion and Unai Emery’s imperssive Aston Villa sides would compete with Marseille, Lens and Monaco to finish in the top three. That said, barring Hakimi for Ben White, Mbappe (for anyone in any team in any league) and Marquinhos for Saliba, would any of these overpaid prima donnas, who play more for themselves than for the team, force their ways into Mikel Arteta’s thinking in North London? Would this Messi be a constant fixture in the Emirates outfit’s XI these days? He only needs half-a-chance to rattle the net, as he showed tonight, but was largely disinterested throughout. And anyone aiming to stake a claim in North London has to fight tooth and nails for the cause from the first to the last minute. The burgeoning Spaniard in the Arsenal dugout lays a lot of emphasis on togetherness and generosity and the Parisians have never enougu of it, especially in dark times.



Take nothing away though from how well Lens have performed thus far this season. Having beaten Paris 3-1 in the reverse fixture, they have more than overachieved and were still allowed to dream of winning a first Ligue 1 title since 1998 before taking to the Parc des Princes pitch tonight. But losing in that manner has now definitely put paid to those lofty ambitions and they may not get a shot at redemption with only seven games until the end of the season and meetings with their direct Champions League rivals AS Monaco and Marseille still to come. Meanwhile across the channel, Man City are odds-on favourites to deny Arsenal their first Premier League crown since 2004 whether they see the Gunners off or not. As mentioned earlier these second-placed sides are worlds apart in terms of financial muscle, squad and ambitions.

 

And yesterday was a non-contest. Earlyn on seven-time Ballon d'Or and World Cup winner Messi undid Mbappe’s good footwork and cutback by firing his effort straight at countryman Facundo Medina. But despite their early dominance, Lens shot themselves in the foot when Ghanaian Abdul Samed was red-carded for an unnecessary harsh challenge on Moroccan World Cup semi-finalist Hakimi. 

 

After that the result was never really in doubt and it was only a matter of ‘how many’ for PSG.

 

Mbappe opened the scoring with a fabulous effort in off the post on the turn after being slipped in by Vitinha. The Portuguese midfielder then turned goalscorer when his swerving effort caught out Samba. Under-fire boss Christophe Galtier's men's nine-minute rout was completed with a fine Messi goal in the 40th minute. 


Frankowski reduced the deficit from the spot in the second half as Lens ramped up the intensity and pressure.


Loïs Openda was thwarted by Donnarumma on a couple of occasions but the damage had been done and there was absolutely no way back.  

 

The magnitude of the task in front of the Gunners won’t differ much from the one Lens faced under the Eiffel Tower.


After all Arsenal are closer to Lens in terms of project, shrewd signings and team before individuals principles than PSG who are the French equivalent of Man City. Both also still chase that coveted Champions League trophy that has eluded them for over a decade.


That said, lose that title decider on the 26th of April and Arsenal too may have to wave goodbye to their dreams of glory.

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