Arsenal 4 (Saka 8, Trossard 20, Jesus 38, Odegaard 70) PSV 0
Arsenal sat themselves back at the top table and, long before the end, could recline in comfort. It will not always be this easy for Mikel Arteta’s players if, as should be expected of all the Premier League’s resource-rich representatives, they travel far in this season’s competition but a slick and clinical outing bodes well for now.
They were hardly troubled by a PSV Eindhoven side that laudably came to play but had no answer whatsoever to the hosts’ speed and intent. If this is the standard of opposition in Group B it would be a surprise if qualification was not settled well before the final match.
Goals from Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Jesus ended proceedings as a contest before half-time but it will encourage Arteta that, while the second period was barren for long periods, Arsenal’s focus never wavered. They deserved the cherry on top that the outstanding Martin Ødegaard drilled into the far corner with 20 minutes left and dispelled any concerns that a lengthy absence from this level might beget stage fright.
Such was the appetite to savour this occasion at the outset that the Arsenal matchday programme printed the Champions League anthem’s lyrics in full. It aired to a roar from the Emirates stands, coupled with applause. This level of enthusiasm for Uefa’s flagship would be anathema at a venue up the M6 but Arsenal’s return to the elite has been six years in coming and an evening of torrential rain in north London could not dampen the fervour.
Arteta had been expected to rotate Aaron Ramsdale back into Arsenal’s goal but again named him on the bench. Perhaps, as the manager’s recent utterances would have it, he required a high-impact substitute. Outwardly this did not seem the most daunting of European debuts for David Raya, who surely has a firm grip on the No 1 position now. Arsenal had beaten PSV here in last season’s Europa League and the Eredivisie runners-up had been shorn of their key attackers, Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons, in the meantime.
Raya was, in fact, called upon to gather low down within a minute after Noa Lang had cut inside but it was no indicator of the future direction.
From Arsenal’s first serious attack his counterpart, Walter Benítez dealt far less convincingly with a Ødegaard shot towards his near post. Benítez’s parry, such as it was, landed directly in front of Saka and from such close quarters the angled finish was a given. Arsenal, who were dumped out of this competition here by PSV in 2007, could feel at home.
Almost immediately Jesus, stretching and failing to make contact with a fizzed Ben White centre, passed up an opening from similar proximity. PSV marauded purposefully, screaming for a penalty when a Johan Bakayoko cross flicked off Oleksandr Zinchenko’s thigh on to his hand, but showed little ability to tighten up. At least Benítez was more secure when Ødegaard took aim again, gathering at the second attempt.
But the visitors’ open approach could not hold against opponents this incisive. After a PSV attack had broken down, Jesus carried the ball down the middle before finding Saka to his right. Trossard gobbled up the ground to meet his teammate’s pass across the edge of the box before, first time and on the run, beating Benítez with an exceptional low finish. The tie seemed over with barely a quarter of it played; soon afterwards Jesus had two opportunities to confirm that impression, drawing impressive saves from Benitez.
It was threatening to become a rout. The runs of Lang and Sergiño Dest maintained a sense of menace on PSV’s left but yawning gaps awaited behind them. Arsenal’s third, though, originated from the opposite side. A chipped ball down the flank from Gabriel Magalhães hopelessly exposed the right-back Jordan Teze and Trossard, scampering away, measured a delivery to the far post. Jesus’s smart touch and blast back across Benítez settled whatever doubts lingered.
If any intrigue remained it lay in whether PSV would attempt damage limitation in the second half. Jesus could quickly have made a mockery of any such plan but saw the ball swiped away close to goal. Both sides continued to leave spaces. Lang, a swift and graceful mover, teed up a half-opening for Bakayoko but the 20-year-old Belgian’s shot was aimed down Raya’s throat.
That minor let-off having passed, Arteta gave Trossard and Zinchenko the final half-hour off. By this stage he could give a little consideration to Sunday’s north London derby, although some of those remaining still had cause to make an impression. Kai Havertz, neat but understated, was certainly one of them and set up Jesus for a decent chance flicked just wide.
The game’s intensity had sagged to pre-season levels, Emile Smith Rowe receiving one of the night’s lustiest cheers when he made a nowadays rare appearance in Jesus’s stead. Almost immediately his eagerness perked Arsenal into a fourth, combining with his fellow replacement Reiss Nelson to tee up Ødegaard for a crisp drive from 20 yards that gave Benítez little chance.
Arsenal will hope the European nights get bigger and bigger from here. — Guardian
Arsenal: Raya, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko (Tomiyasu 58), Odegaard, Rice (Jorginho 76), Havertz, Saka (Vieira 69), Gabriel Jesus (Smith Rowe 69), Trossard (Nelson 58).
PSV: Benitez, Teze, Bella-Kotchap (Ramalho 76), Boscagli, Dest, Schouten, Veerman, Bakayoko (Lozano 66), Saibari (Tillman 66), Lang (Vertessen 76), de Jong (Pepi 90).
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany).