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Arsenal at PSV Eindhoven preview: Free Hit

The Gunners wrap up the Champions League group stage with a trip to PSV

Arsenal FC Training Session - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

With Saturday’s disappointing result at Aston Villa in the rear view mirror, Arsenal FC travel to the Netherlands to face PSV Eindhoven to close out the Champions League group stage ahead of the knockouts. The Gunners have already locked up the top spot in the group, making the final game all but a formality.

PSV are enjoying a phenomenal domestic season. They are on top of the Eredivisie by a country mile as they have won all 15 league matches. Their last loss in all competitions was their 4-0 thrashing at the Emirates in late September, which, in retrospect, may have been the early decider for the group.

With little to play for besides pride, how will Mikel Arteta choose to approach this mostly meaningless match?

Here are three talking points ahead of Tuesday’s match:

Health & Injuries

On the injury front, no news is good news, right? Saturday’s tense affair with Aston Villa was physical, but the Gunners escaped unscathed. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka both missed training on Monday, Martinelli with an illness and Saka with a knock to his left foot that doesn’t seem to be serious, but both are expected to travel with the team.

While the physio room has been a bit of a logjam with long term layoffs, Mikel Arteta revealed on Monday that the perpetually-hurt Emile Smith Rowe is back in training and will be assessed after Monday’s session for the possibility of travel.

With rumors floating around that Arteta is looking to get a midfielder on loan and with Fabio Vieira and Thomas Partey both out, all of this points to an obvious second half of the season redemption arc for the Hale End graduate (he said, optimistically).

Nothing to lose

This may be the only match all season where Arsenal can view the match as dead rubber (barring Arsenal securing the PL in mid-May). No matter the outcome, the Gunners will finish on top of the group and PSV will finish second barring an Arsenal win by a least 3 and a Lens victory over Sevilla by at least 3. It’s an oddly relaxing feeling, knowing your fate is sealed (successfully, at least). That doesn’t mean the Gunners will just roll over and capitulate, though. I imagine that Arteta will at the very least treat it as an extra chance to work on tactics and give fringe players some match time.

Rotation, rotation, rotation

The lineup on Tuesday should be the weirdest one we have seen all season. Arteta can only rotate so many players due to CL roster rules, but he has the rare luxury of being able to shelf players like Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus, and Martin Ødegaard in the midst of a compact December. Whether Mikel decides to give the teenagers Ethan Nwaneri and Miles Lewis-Skelly some CL time is anyone’s guess, but I can’t think of a good reason why he wouldn’t. Even a rare Cedric appearance would be welcome, and I don’t think those words could ever be said in any other circumstance. I imagine there will be wholesale changes across the pitch with some fitness cameos from a few starters after the 70th minute.

There’s not a ton at stake either way, but it would still be nice to see the Gunners take a competitive approach to the match, especially with what should be a largely-rotated side. Will it be kind of sloppy and weird? Probably. But will it be fun nonetheless, knowing that the knockouts await no matter what? Absolutely.

WHAT: Arsenal at PSV Eindhoven
WHEN: Tuesday, December 12th, 12:45pm EST/9:45am PST/5:45pm GMT
WHERE: The Philips Stadion
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming on the Paramount+ app.

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