After more than six years, Champions League football returns as we take on PSV at the Emirates this evening.
This is a competition that, if not taken for granted, was something that was just part and parcel of our lives as Arsenal fans … until it wasn’t. You think, maybe a year or two out of it, and we’ll get back in there, but it was March 7th 2017 when our ten men went down 5-1 to Bayern Munich (agg 10-2). It’s been a struggle to get back, so let’s hope we can make the most of it.
At his press conference yesterday, Mikel Arteta was asked how he felt, and said:
Proud and excited, I would say. It’s been a long time for the club since we have been in the competition, and obviously, it’s the first time for me as a manager as well, so really looking forward to it.
We’ve been chasing it and fighting for it and now we’ve got it and now we have to make the most out of it and it starts at home. I’m sure all our supporters are going to be really excited about it and we need to manage that and as well, enjoy the challenge.
This particular group (a relatively kind draw) does give the manager a chance to rotate his squad, and to use the depth that he has insisted he needed and now has. Again, from his press conference, he spoke about how to keep players happy:
Players, to be happy they have to play and they have to feel important, they have to feel valued and they have to feel that we trust them. It’s the only way to do it. I will try to do that in the best possible way, maximising them to get the best possible performance. That’s it.
How much that translates into changes from the side that beat Everton remains to be seen. The absence of Gabriel Martinelli due to a hamstring strain will ensure at least one from the starting XI from Goodison Park, and you have to assume that it will be Leandro Trossard who won us that game with his fantastic finish.
I suspect we might see a couple more. Fabio Vieira has done well, but I have a suspicion we might see Kai Havertz back in for this one, and with the derby on the horizon, a start for Gabriel Jesus would make sense to get competitive minutes into his legs. The other possible change I could envisage is Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back to ensure we manage Oleksandr Zinchenko properly.
Arteta didn’t start him against Fulham because he’d been out for four and a half months. Since then he’s started two games for us, and two games for Ukraine, and I just wonder if an element of caution over his situation might see the Japan international get the nod. Not least because he is going to be an important part of the plan for Sunday. But, I like the fact we’re a bit more hard to predict this season, so let’s see what happens later.
As for PSV, we have recent experience of them from last season’s Europa League group stage. We won 1-0 at home, but lost 2-0 away, and even without Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons – who were their stand-out players last time around – they’re sitting happily top of the Eredivisie, with four wins from four, and a load of goals under their belt. It’s hard to see them come and park the bus, the fact they might look to play a bit should suit us, but we ought to take nothing for granted even if we’re favourites on paper.
So, the music will play later, I’m sure the atmosphere will be great, and our return to a competition which has teased us and excited us and brutalised us in the past will be complete. Let’s hope we can make the most of this, not just tonight, but throughout this season in Europe.