Can Arsenal avoid another European upset as they rejoin elite?

19 Sep 2023
Jesus, Arsenal

Alex Keble looks at how Gunners can beat PSV Eindhoven after losing to them last season

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Alex Keble looks at the key talking points as Premier League clubs start the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Arsenal v PSV Eindhoven

Kick-off: Wednesday 20 Sep, 20:00 BST
PSV's last result: Won 4-0 against Nijmegen
PSV's league position: 1st

It’s been six years since Arsenal last hosted a Champions League match, but it feels like a lifetime ago.

In March 2017 Theo Walcott scored Arsenal’s only goal in a 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich that made it 10-2 on aggregate in their last-16 tie: a stunning, miserable end to their 19 consecutive seasons of Champions League football under Arsene Wenger.

A lot has changed since then – but not so much that Arsenal have become immune to a shock in Europe. Last season they were eliminated from the UEFA Europa League by Sporting CP. In the group stage last October they were beaten 2-0 by PSV Eindhoven.

“We were nowhere near our level and we know that in Europe it's very difficult to win,” Mikel Arteta said after that defeat to PSV. “I saw a number of the boys running out of energy because we had to chase the ball so much.

“We didn't get any control. We didn't get the ball in the areas we wanted. We gave so many balls away, which allowed so many transitions.”

Arteta was right. PSV were comfortable winners that day, scoring three offside goals in a match that could have looked a lot worse for Arsenal. However, the PSV team visiting Emirates Stadium this Wednesday has changed significantly since then.

Power shift

Ruud van Nistlerooy has been replaced by Peter Bosz, a Cruyff-inspired tactician even more committed to possession-based attacking football regardless of the opponent. Four wins from four in the Eredivisie – most recently beating NEC Nijmegen 4-0 - suggests the players are taking to it well.

It is possible PSV’s adventurous turn will act against them at Arsenal, where they were beaten 1-0 in the group stage of the Europa League last season.

PSV’s possession average in the Eredivisie has increased from 54 per cent to 59.8 per cent under Bosz, and attempts to open up at the Emirates should play into Arteta’s hands.

Bosz does not have a particularly good record in the Champions League, winning only eight points from 12 group-stage matches at Borussia Dortmund in 2017/18, and Bayer Leverkusen in 2019/20.

Meanwhile, Arsenal, are back on the up. They continued their undefeated start to the season with Sunday's 1-0 win at Goodison Park, just the sort of sticky fixture that might have ended in a draw during Arsenal’s mini-collapse in the second half of last season.

With Gabriel Jesus returning from injury and Fabio Vieira putting in some excellent performances of late, Arsenal now possess a self-assurance that ought to ensure the visit of PSV ends in a straightforward victory.

They certainly need that to be the case ahead of the north London derby. Tottenham Hotspur’s lack of European football gives them extra time to prepare, and should Arsenal have to suffer for victory in midweek they may be at a slight disadvantage ahead of Sunday’s big match.

Not that Arsenal fans will be worried about their congested fixture list. That is simply the price of admission into the elite and Arsenal, despite having never won the Champions League, re-enter the tournament as one of the favourites.

"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, so I’m really looking forward to it," Arteta told the club's official website.

"We’ve been chasing it and fighting for it and now we've got it, we have to make the most out of it. It starts at home and I'm sure our supporters are going to be really excited about it, and it's about managing that and enjoying the challenge.

"Every time I watched it and we weren’t there, I felt it. I think you put pressure on yourself.  This club has to be in the Champions League.

"When I have the job that I have, I have the responsibility to try to bring the club to the biggest stages, to the biggest tournament and then be fighting for them. It was a process but now we are here, we have to make the most out of it." 

Also in this series

Part 2: Will Ten Hag revert to old tactics to better Bayern and Kane?

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