Arsenal’s second Champions League group stage clash at Estadio Bollaert-Delelis against the French side RC Lens on Tuesday evening was thrown into chaos as the squad was stranded for hours at Luton Airport on the eve of the match. Football.london.com reported that “the north London beat PSV 4-0 at Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago and Mikel Arteta and his players will certainly want to keep their unbeaten start to the season alive, despite the preparations for the game thus far not going to plan”. The Gunners were due to depart for Lille, just north of Lens, on Monday evening but waited for three hours to depart the private terminal at Luton According to Football.london.com “the Gunners were due to take off at 4:15 pm UK time but have been waiting in the airport terminal for nearly four hours due to stormy conditions near Luton Airport”.
The Gunners boss’s pre-Lens press conference scheduled to be held in France on Monday evening was canceled due to a flight delay involving the Arsenal squad. The Gunners boss was due to speak to reporters at Stade Bollaert-Delelis at 6 pm UK time alongside William Saliba but a storm in the surrounding area of Luton airport caused delay.
Clubs are bound by Article 73 of UEFA regulations to hold a press conference between noon and 8 pm the day before the match. It is also possible that UEFA will provide an exception, to these unforeseen circumstances, hence, with news of the press conference being canceled just circulating, and it is unclear if Arsenal will be punished. In the build-up to their first Champions League game in over 20 years, Newcastle arrived late for their press conference on the eve of their Champions League clash away to AC Milan last month but avoided punishment. As the cancellation of the press conference was not caused by Arsenal, the club will not receive a punishment from UEFA. Hence, it is also their first offense, meaning they would only be served with a warning.
Among the traveling party were fringe players Cedric Soares and Karl Hein, Bukayo Saka despite limping off injured at Bournemouth on Saturday, and Thomas Partey who has not played since facing Fulham on August 26 due to a groin strain while Gabriel Martinelli (hamstring) and Jurrien Timber (ACL) remain on the sidelines for Arsenal.
Therefore, the Spaniard and his center-back were forced to speak to a small number of reporters over the phone.
Mikel Arteta on Thomas Partey said: “He’s progressed really well in the last two weeks and he managed to train in the last two or three days with the team and that’s great news for us obviously. I think his progression in the last week has been very good. He might have some exposure tomorrow depending how the game goes. He’s a big player and we know what he brings to the team. He knows exactly what we need and with the injuries we had to other players in midfield and at the back he complements us in a great way and gives us options. So it’s great to have him back again”.
Reacting to Saka, he said: “He’s fine, he’s much better. It was a big knock but he has recovered well and trained with us today,” Arteta refuses to underestimate the season’s Ligue 1 runners-up, despite undergoing a poor season and lying 16th this term after four defeats from their first seven games. “I’ve been really impressed [with them],” he added: “What they did last year is incredible to be within a point of the title. The way they did it, the form they had at home. This season they’ve been really unlucky with some of the results they’ve had. At home they’ve got just one point and I don’t know how. So we expect a huge battle tomorrow. We’re more than aware of it. We showed the players everything and we have a huge test tomorrow.”
On the telephone, Saliba admitted that the delay affected them but he didn’t know the cause but maintained that Arsenal will still perform with high spirit. “Yes, I don’t know, maybe because it is raining in France or England so we couldn’t fly and we are still in London. Yeah of course. We have to arrive first but tomorrow is another day and we will give our best against Lens. It is a really good feeling. My second game in the Champions League with Arsenal. I can’t wait to play in France so it is a good feeling. We know it won’t be an easy game. It is a really good team who finished second last season. They didn’t start well but in the last two or three games, they are better so we have to be focused on tomorrow and give our best.”