Arsenal returned to the Champions League in some style last night, spanking PSV 4-0, in what was our most accomplished attacking performance of the season so far.
There weren’t any real surprises in terms of the team. David Raya kept his place, Leandro Trossard got the nod to replace the injured Gabriel Martinelli, while Kai Havertz and Gabriel Jesus both returned to the starting line-up. The stadium looked great, the atmosphere was palpable, and an early goal really helped set the mood.
When Martin Odegaard’s excellent shot was saved by the keeper, Bukayo Saka was first to react – knocking home the rebound with his right foot. One Champions League game, one Champions League goal for the 22 year old, and it felt right that having contributed so much to help us back into this competition, he was the man who kicked things off for us again.
PSV didn’t just come to sit and deny us space, and they had some moments in that opening period. Nothing too threatening but they wanted to play, and in many ways that suited us just fine. When you have players of the calibre of Declan Rice, William Saliba, Ben White and Gabriel looking after the defensive side of your performance, there’s an assurance there which allows the attacking players to thrive.
The second goal began with a couple of defensive interventions from White before Jesus picked up the ball in our half and drove with purpose into theirs. He played it outside to Saka who took it on, looked up and found Trossard on the edge of the box with a pass that took out three or four defenders. The Belgian used the pace of the ball to laser-guide it into the bottom corner to make it 2-0. An absolutely clinical example of how to hurt a team in transition.
Jesus forced the keeper into a good save, and in the 38th minute he got his goal. Much has been made of Raya’s short passing and his ability in that regard, but this one began with a long goal kick which Jesus did brilliantly to take down and get control of. Gabriel found Trossard with an excellent pass over the top of the PSV defence, and when his precision cross found the Brazilian beyond the far post, his touch was superb and the finish unerring. Without being in any way critical of Eddie Nketiah, that’s the kind of goal you can only score with Jesus on the pitch, and his return to full fitness is just such good news.
Can I take a moment to laugh at Ben White’s yellow card for grabbing his opponent’s foot? It’s my blog, so yes, yes I can.
Jesus had other chances in the second half, cutting inside when maybe he should have shot first time, then poking wide a good opportunity created by Kai Havertz – who had a very solid game it should be said. Saliba dazzled with some quick feet at the back, and at 3-0 up and with a North London derby on the horizon, the manager made changes. Reiss Nelson, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe all got minutes, as Jesus, Saka, Zinchenko and Trossard were withdrawn.
Havertz went up front and continued to contribute well to our game, and it was nice to see Smith Rowe get some playing time, even if he did look a little rusty. Which is to be expected, I suppose. The icing on the cake came in the 70th minute when Odegaard got on the scoresheet. That low, drilled finish into the bottom corner is fast becoming something of a trademark for him. The accuracy of his shooting is quite something, even the one Saka scored from was arrowing towards the corner when the keeper made the save, and the captain more than deserved his goal.
That was always going to be that, PSV were well and truly beaten, and to mark our return to the Champions League with such an impressive performance was very pleasing. Beyond that, I think we’ve all been waiting just to see what exactly happens when the team clicks from an attacking perspective, and if this is the answer then it augurs well for what’s to come.
Afterwards, Martin Odegaard said:
I think you saw the motivation, the energy straight from the start. You know, to be back in this competition is huge for us as a club. And I think you saw it on the pitch today. We really enjoyed it. And yeah, we played a good game. Of course, some things we can still improve, but it was a solid performance and a great start to the competition.
While Mikel Arteta said:
It was a beautiful night. Obviously after such a long time, we wanted to produce the right performance to try to win the game, and it was great to see the atmosphere, the Champions League music, everyone was getting a bit emotional before it. We showed especially in both boxes today we were exceptional and that was the difference in the game I think.
I don’t think you could have asked for much more from this game. If you want to put some of it down to the quality of the opposition, be my guest, but there was a confidence and fluency from this Arsenal performance that I really enjoyed. It said ‘This is our level, this is where we belong’. There was no tentative feeling our way through the early stages of this competition. It was – BANG, HERE WE ARE! – and it was a lot of fun. Good preparation for what’s to come on Sunday too.
We’ll have more to say about this one in a brought-forward Arsecast a bit later on this morning – something we’ll be doing throughout this season after European games. So, please join us for that in all the usual podcast places, and with three points on the board, we can now turn our attention to the derby.
For now, take it easy.