Exclusive Jonathan Johnson column: Reaction to Lens-Arsenal & Newcastle-PSG, plus potential forward transfer

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Mixed week for French clubs in the Champions League

Lens earned a big win as they came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 in a memorable first home game of the season in the Champions League, while Newcastle saw off Paris Saint-Germain in some style thanks to a similarly lively atmosphere at St James’ Park.

So, mixed success for Ligue 1 teams, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two teams that came out on top were the two teams who’ve been away from the Champions League, and indeed the European stage, for a long, long time. Both sides were playing in front of really electric atmospheres, which I think made a big difference.

Still, in Arsenal’s case it’s also important to note that the match changed for them with the injury to Bukayo Saka. I do think that could have an impact on Arsenal’s season, depending on how long he’s out for. With Newcastle, it was a fantastic performance and a fully deserved win, but equally if a couple of other chances had gone PSG’s way earlier in the game, it could’ve been a different story. On that first goal for Newcastle, you’d also expect much better from a player like Marquinhos in the PSG defence.

Overall, not the best nights for Arsenal or PSG, but with the important caveat that these were very special occasions for the home team on the night, and that can make for an intimidating atmosphere that also allowed Newcastle and Lens to play above and beyond themselves.

The stand-out performer for Lens on the night was matchwinner Elye Wahi – a player who was on the radar of a number of top clubs over the summer, most notably Chelsea, but I was also impressed by the response of Adrien Thomasson, who made a mistake for the opening goal by Gabriel Jesus but who then scored the equaliser.

I was impressed by Lens’ resolve, and the fact that they didn’t try to do anything too different, whereas in PSG’s case you have to question why Luis Enrique decided to only go for two central midfielders and four attackers when any minimal amount of match preparation would have shown that that was a suicidal approach. Lens, by contrast, didn’t change their approach for Arsenal and played in the way that’s got them to where they are – their strong understanding and intimacy within their set-up I think was key to getting themselves back into the game.

Wahi is the big name in this Lens side, but I thought there were a number of impressive performers really, particularly Nampalys Mendy, who has settled in really well despite only being at the club for around six weeks. Kevin Danso was also really solid in defence and Brice Samba, the captain, made some important saves. You couldn’t really argue that they didn’t deserve this win.

Hugo Ekitike heading for PSG exit

I can confirm that Hugo Ekitike is no longer wanted at PSG following transfer rumours about his situation and a possible move to the Premier League. The interest from Crystal Palace, which was also there towards the end of the summer transfer window, has been very problematic for PSG because he and his agent didn’t inform PSG that they were trying to negotiate a loan move to Crystal Palace. This was around the time PSG were negotiating a move for Randal Kolo Muani and Ekitike was of interest to Eintracht Frankfurt at that point.

Ekitike has now been dropped from the squad, he’s not on PSG’s list for the Champions League, so his future at the Parc des Princes looks very bleak. There have been links with Everton as well, but I think interest from Newcastle is in the past now. Still, I certainly expect Ekitike to be on the move this winter because there’s no future for him in Paris.

It’s going to be very difficult for PSG to get the kind of money back that they paid for him. PSG already knew they were over-paying for the player because the fee was agreed before his initial loan move, during which he lost massive value. They tried to get out of this deal but they were obliged to complete it.

Realistically, PSG would now be lucky to get a paid loan with a view to a permanent transfer for around €20m, if everything were to go well, but I think it’s clear they’re going to have to accept a significant hit on this transfer, unless he can go out on loan and really impress and build up some value.

Moussa Dembele’s stinging attack on Lyon

Moussa Dembele laid into his former club Lyon in an interview with Foot Mercato, saying: “I left like Malo [Gusto], Castello [Lukeba] and Bradley [Barcola] did, and they did well to leave in order to improve, enjoy better momentum for their development and earn more money. Lucas Paqueta and Bruno Guimaraes were also right to leave. Look at the fun they’re having! Bruno Cheyrou said the players were assets, what a lack of respect. Where did he think he was? A slave ship? In a cotton field? I’m not an asset, I’m a human being! If we’re assets, what are the fans? Consumers? This is such a dangerous and disrespectful take.”

There has undoubtedly been an institutional crisis going on at Lyon for a few years now, there have been serious question marks about how complacent the club has been, going back to the end of Jean-Michel Aulas’ reign.

Dembele was one of a number of players who, being totally honest, under-performed a bit, but, equally, there was a malaise that was allowed to set in around the club. Houssem Aouar is a good example of this – a hugely talented player who rose up through Lyon’s academy but whose form really dropped off a cliff once a move to Juventus was blocked.

I think a number of players will be feeling similarly, but now that Dembele’s moved on, he’s able to speak out about it. It’s certainly something that’s been brewing for a few years, and even this week there have been reports that one of John Textor’s investors already wants out of the project just a few months into his ownership. It’s a really unhappy place right now, so Dembele’s comments don’t really come as much of a surprise at all.

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