Arsenal are back in the Champions League — and they look like contenders too

Arsenal 4-0 PSV: The Gunners made a triumphant return in their first Champions League match in six years as they blew the Dutch side away at the Emirates

Jamie Braidwood
at the Emirates
Thursday 21 September 2023 07:04 BST
<p>Martin Odegaard capped Arsenal’s 4-0 win over PSV as the Gunners returned to the Champions League </p>

Martin Odegaard capped Arsenal’s 4-0 win over PSV as the Gunners returned to the Champions League

Arsenal had waited six years for the Champions League to return to the Emirates – and there will be many more nights here this season should they continue to play like this. A triumphant return to European football’s top table was made possible by a blistering attacking display that blew PSV apart; the Dutch visitors offered little opposition, but Arsenal’s front three were too good: all of Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Jesus scoring in the first half to set the Gunners towards a comfortable opening victory in Group B.

Jesus led from the front on his first start of the season; the player in the Arsenal squad with the most experience in this competition showing how it was done as he tied together an attacking line-up named by Mikel Arteta. Around him, Arsenal purred. Saka and Trossard superb on the flanks, Kai Havertz looking a little less lost in midfield, even as the outstanding Martin Odegaard continued to show the levels there are still to reach. The Norwegian would add Arsenal’s fourth in the second half with a fizzing low strike from the edge of the box.

But Arteta’s selection created a front five which clicked playing together for the first time this season, producing by far Arsenal’s most complete and dominant performance of the campaign so far. That it came in the Champions League was fitting; in their first match in the competition since 2017, this was a night to perform. Around the Emirates, there was a tingle of excitement when the anthem they had waited so long to hear began. It was followed by a silence as they soaked it in, and a roar afterwards. Odegaard simply nodded, as if to say that Arsenal were ready for this moment.

Arsenal made their long-awaited return to the Champions League at the Emirates

Arteta had said so too and, after being forced to wait an extra year when their return was delayed by falling short in 2022, pushing Manchester City in the Premier League last season had sharpened Arsenal to take to this competition in this manner. After taking that extra step in their development, they appeared ready now in a way they may not have done a year ago. This was a performance to suggest that, even after being out of the Champions League for so long, Arsenal return now as one of the few clubs who could challenge holders City for their title.

Saka made his Champions League debut and produced a display that showed he is now poised to become one of the stars of the whole competition. The 22-year-old is a player whose step up to this level may have occurred anyway, but his development over the course of last season ensured there has been a natural progression to the flowering of his talents. Saka’s 181st appearance for Arsenal was his first in the Champions League and he was sublime; his first 20 minutes bringing a goal and an assist.

Saka fired Arsenal ahead after just eight minutes

After he was beaten on the outside earlier on, the PSV left-back Sergino Dest stood off Saka and allowed the England international to tease his way into the box. Saka set up Odegaard, whose shot towards the near post was parried straight out by the goalkeeper Walter Benitez, with Saka on hand to drill the finish across goal from the angle. Within 20 minutes it was 2-0, Jesus leading a rapid break to play wide to Saka, who waited and picked out Trossard in space on the edge of the box. Trossard’s first-time finish into the bottom corner was crisp and Arsenal were already flying.

They could have been out of sight by the half-hour mark, Arteta’s attacking line-up flowing forward brilliantly, with Jesus and Odegaard operating superbly in central positions. Jesus teed up Havertz, who was leaning back and shot over. Jesus then cut inside onto his left but fired straight at Benitez from the angle. The Brazilian then created space with a clever stepover, but Benitez was again equal to the curling shot as Jesus looked for the far corner. The PSV goalkeeper was desperately attempting to atone for his earlier mistake, but there was nothing he could do as Jesus eventually made it three, lashing in a wonderful strike after Trossard’s precise clip to the back post.

Jesus capped his first start of the season with Arsenal’s third

It wasn’t even half-time and the three points had been secured. Arsenal have landed in a kind group on their return – with Sevilla and Lens for company there have been jokes that it looks more Europa League than Champions League, and on this early evidence the Gunners should cruise through. PSV offered nothing after a couple of early shots, which were both saved by David Raya, who again started ahead of Aaron Ramsdale. Arteta could have quite easily changed his goalkeeper here, but there would have been no point. Arsenal’s job was already done.

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