Arsenal drew PSV Eindhoven 1-1 in a dead rubber match to wrap things up in Champions League Group B. The contest lacked the usual intensity of a continental contest, which is to be expected when nothing is at stake. The Gunners were guaranteed to top the group and PSV were through to the knockouts in second.
The Gunners have advanced out of the group stage in every European competition in which they’ve participated since 2000-01: 18 times in the Champions League and 5 in the Europa League (and one year without European football altogether). And with that, we bid farewell to the Champions League format we’ve come to know. Next season, the competition expands to 32 clubs with 24 advancing out of the new group stage.
Arsenal took the lead late in the first half on a lovely turn-and-finishing from Eddie Nketiah off the inside of the post. Reiss Nelson, who was the brightest player for Arsenal on the evening, was instrumental in the goal, passing to Cedric to start the move and getting the assist. Nelson is a confident dribbler and has an explosive first few steps to take him past his marker. Every time he plays, he looks as if he should have a bigger role. I think he doesn’t get as much time because he loses the ball a bit too much and sometimes in dangerous areas for Mikel Arteta’s liking.
PSV Eindhoven equalized early in the second half when William Saliba tried to cut out a pass and missed. Given where Cedric was positioned on the play, the French centerback might have been better-served to continue retreating. Ultimately, it took an incredible shot from Yorbe Vertessen to beat Aaron Ramsdale, who made several good saves on the evening.
Both sides had a chance to win the match late on. PSV got their chance after Gabriel whiffed on cutting out a pass, leading to a 2-v-1 break. Substitute centerback Declan Rice slid over well to cut off the passing angle and Aaron Ramsdale cut down the shooting angle, which forced a harmless shot well wide of the mark.
Arsenal nearly scored with the final kick of the game. Gabriel Jesus found Leandro Trossard who beat his man and had an excellent look at goal, but fired right into the keeper’s upper chest. Jakub Kiwior put a difficult volley attempt over the bar on the rebound.
The aforementioned Kiwior had the ball in the back of the net a few minutes earlier, but it was called back for offside. Gabriel, who went up for the header before Kiwior got to the ball in front of him, was offside. It was a closer call than it seemed. Gabriel was likely deemed to have influenced the play because he challenged for the ball and might have prevented a defender from getting to Kiwior. On another day with another referee, that goal might stand.
There’s not much else to be said about the match. It was disappointing Mikel Arteta didn’t give Ethan Nwaneri, Myles Lewis-Skelly, and / or Reuell Walters some playing time. But I can understand why he did it. Seeing if Declan Rice can deputize at centerback, getting Emile Smith Rowe some minutes as he works back from injury, and giving Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Jesus, and Ben White some time to maintain their sharpness is far more important to Arsenal’s prospects this season than some feel-good minutes for an academy player.
The only blemish on the evening was that Mohamed Elneny, starting for the first time since his ACL tear early this year, had to come off with a hamstring problem. Bukayo Saka, who was carrying a foot knock, warmed up for a bit in the first half but rather quickly went down the tunnel with one of the trainers. I don’t think it’s anything to be overly concerned about with Arsenal’s star winger.
The knockout stage draw takes place on Monday, December 18th. Arsenal won Group B, so they’ll face one of the runners-up from another group. The Gunners host Brighton at the Emirates on Sunday.