Arsenal returned to the Champions League with style, pummeling PSV 4-0 at the Emirates to stake their claim as the team to beat in Group B. Until today, the Gunners looked a bit less than the team they were last season but returned to their dominant, match-controlling best to open the group stage.
The Emirates faithful waited 2388 days to see Arsenal score in the Champions League. Bukayo Saka ensured they didn’t have to wait any longer, putting the Gunners ahead eight minutes into the match. It almost had to be Bukayo, didn’t it? It’s poetic that the Hale End product at the center of Arsenal’s rebuild, who, at times, single-handedly carried the club through rough stretches, scored the first Champions League goal for the club in six years.
Leandro Trossard doubled the lead less than 15 minutes later with Bukayo Saka turning provider. Gabriel Jesus turned his man at midfield and passed to Saka on the right. The winger carried towards the box and picked out Trossard with his cutback. The Belgian made no mistake, expertly firing into the bottom corner.
Arsenal put the match out of reach towards the end of the half. Gabriel Magalhaes hit a fantastic vertical ball over the top to Trossard. The left winger spotted Gabriel Jesus’ late run towards the back post and found him with an inch-perfect cross. The Brazilian striker, who had started the move by recycling the ball off a fantastic chested control from a goal kick, controlled the cross and blasted it into the far corner.
The Gunners added a fourth midway through the second half when Martin Ødegaard capped off a free-flowing attacking sequence with a viciously stuck shot into the bottom corner from about 20 yards out. It was a deserved marker for the Arsenal captain, who had easily his best performance of the season. He was brilliant. He seemed to always be on the ball, dictating the tempo, and controlling the match, with an assist from Declan Rice. We’re soon going to run out of superlatives for Rice. He’s perpetually in the right place because his unrivaled ability to read the game combines so well with his athleticism, which allows him to always be precisely where he should. Kudos to Kai Havertz, as well. He was excellent on the evening. He provides a physical presence in the midfield and is always making intelligent runs. If they tracked such a thing, I’m sure he’d lead Arsenal in fantastic runs not picked out by teammates.
PSV, who hadn’t lost in 26 consecutive matches, were woefully overmatched by Arsenal. And by virtue of the 3-0 lead at halftime, the Gunners were able to take their foot off the gas and take advantage of all five substitutes to rest key players ahead of the North London Derby on Sunday. All of the subs — Reiss Nelson, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe, and Jorginho — acquitted themselves well. Nelson and Vieira were particularly bright. Tomiyasu didn’t have much to do. Smith Rowe looked a player getting his first minutes of the season but was involved in the play. Jorginho’s 10-minute run-out was more a cameo appearance.
William Saliba is the only Arsenal player I can criticize on the evening, and he was mostly fine. He just had a few shaky moments of indecision but either made up for them himself or got a helping hand from a well-positioned teammate.
You couldn’t have scripted a better return to the Champions League for Arsenal. Next up: Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Three points from the NLD would cap off one of the better weeks in recent club history.