Cats Eye View: Sunderland’s Jeremain Lens proves he has the talent but will he be staying?

Jeremain Lens tries to get away from Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Picture by Frank Reid
Jeremain Lens tries to get away from Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Picture by Frank Reid
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Will the real Jeremain Lens please stand up?

Against Arsenal the £8million summer buy produced the sort of display that Sunderland supporters and boss Sam Allardyce have been crying out for all season.

Committed, determined, creative and clinical.

The Dutch forward was given a “Number 10” role against Arsene Wenger’s Gunners at the Emirates Stadium, allowed to roam free behind main striker Steven Fletcher.

Danny Graham and Duncan Watmore were the support acts out wide but it was Lens that shone brightest for Sunderland, certainly in the opening 45 minutes.

It suited him, with fewer defensive responsibilities.

His runs off the ball and dribbling on it caused Arsenal a lot of problems and it took a while for the hosts to find their rhythm.

And he seemed to be relishing the challenge. Or was it the opportunity?

It was after all Lens’ first start under Allardyce since October’s Wear-Tyne derby.

Jordan Pickford, excelling in goal on his full debut, was the stand-out performer, but Lens was the best outfield player for Sunderland.

And fans have been wondering where that type of performance has been all season?

The 28-year-old has talent. Of that, there is not doubt. The biggest questions are about his application, work rate and attitude.

Now, cynics will suggest there was no surprise in the timing of his good performance, with the transfer window now open.

And it won’t come as a shock that Lens didn’t run over to the bench to hug the coaching staff when he scored the opener given his recent spell out the side for disciplinary reasons.

But as long as he is a Sunderland player and produces performances like that, then he will have a big future at the club. That remains the million dollar question though, can he?

His opening goal was all his own doing.

Lens, like a terrier, closed down first Kieran Gibbs and then Laurent Koscielny forcing the Arsenal defenders into uncharacteristic mistakes.

The flying Dutchman then took aim and clinically fired past Petr Cech – no easy feat – beating him at his near post.

It was a fine goal and highlighted the talent Lens had.

What will have impressed Allardyce more than the finish was his desire to win the ball in the first place.

Has he done enough to start against Swansea City? Most definitely.

Will he? That remains in the balance given Allardyce made seven changes in preparation of the away trips to south Wales and Tottenham Hotspur.

Lens faded in the second half, no surprise given his lack of recent game time, but he’d made his point.

Will he be around much longer to make it again?

There has been interest from Roma and Dutch giants Ajax in a player who Sunderland spent an initial £8million on, with another £5m in potential add-ons.

And there remains a strong chance that he will be moving on from the Stadium of Light this month, with Lens the biggest saleable asset Sunderland have to fund Allardyce’s transfer plans.

But if he does remain, then he has set the bar now. Allardyce has a minimum requirement for his players when it comes to putting in the hard graft.

Anyone who falls out of line with that won’t be in the starting line-up. Simple as that. Lens has to realise his defensive responsibilities.

Against Arsenal, a free hit really with it being the FA Cup, he was allowed to roam but he did track back too.

With some HUGE games to come against Swansea, Spurs and Bournemouth over the next week, Allardyce will need everyone pulling their weight.

If Lens can regularly replicate his Arsenal performance then that would provide a major boost to Sunderland’s hopes of staying up.

It would almost be like a new signing.

Fans wait with baited breath.