Sportupdatehub takes a look back at the talking points from the Gunners 1-0 win over PSV at the Emirates Stadium in the Europa League.
Arteta wants more than just 1-0 to the Arsenal
For a man as well steeped in the history of Arsenal football club, Mikel Arteta will know that 1-0 victories go down very nicely in the red half of North London. Thursday night’s win over PSV made it three 1-0s in a row for the Gunners, but speaking after the game Arteta revealed that he was far from content with repeating the achievements of his predecessors.
“It’s great to have clean sheets,” he began. “I think today we should have scored more goals, the same in the first half against Leeds, but I’m very pleased with the performance, and hopefully, that will come.”
On the night he is not wrong. Despite the modest scoreline and tepid feel to the game, this is a game where on another might Arsenal could have won by a score line more befitting of their dominance. While the single goal victories over Bodo/Glimt and Leeds were slogs that Arsenal were probably fortunate to win, on Thursday night they outscored their Dutch visitors by 3.62 to 0.22 (as per Infogol).
PSV, who have been a side famed for their attacking exploits this season having scored 35 goals in 10 Eredivisie matches and 11 in just three Europa League games, were restricted to little more than counter attacking pot-shots mostly through the lively Xavi Simons as Arsenal really flexed their muscles. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah could all have found a way past the inspired Walter Benitez in the PSV goal long before Granit Xhaka finally broke the deadlock 20 minutes from time.
Whereas in previous matches Arsenal have been clinical with limited opportunities, Thursday night was the opposite. This will please Arteta, who again is far from satisfied despite the fact that the Gunners have qualified for the Europa League knockout stages with two games to spare. The Spaniard has high standards and against PSV, his team took a step closer to meeting them.
Nketiah from the left has mixed results
As soon as Gabriel Martinelli was ruled out of training on Wednesday with a bug you did start to wonder if Gabriel Jesus might feature against PSV. The £45million pound summer signing has generally been saved for important Premier League matches, but with numbers limited in the forward departments it looked to be a case of needs must against what is probably the toughest opponent Arsenal have to face in this group stage.
This offered an exciting change to see Jesus partnered yet again with Eddie Nketiah. The pair have struck up a quick bond off the pitch and across limited glimpses in preseason it seemed as though the two had developed a good understanding on it too. This has generally come in a two however, but on Thursday night Mikel Arteta opted to go for something different.
While it might have felt like a more obvious choice to play Jesus out wide where he spent much of last season for City, it was Nketiah who was put on the left, with Arsenal’s number nine operating in the role befitting of shirt number. Arteta’s explanation for this when asked after the game by Sportupdatehub was simple enough: “Changing one thing instead of two things.”
In many ways this is a positive as it shows the Arsenal manager has learned. In the past he has shown a penchant for falling into the traps that are frequented by his mentor Pep Guardiola and seeking to go ‘galaxy brain’ with two many changes to accommodate for key absentees. Now Arsenal have a clear 4-3-3 set up in each game where Jesus is the spearhead, trying not to alter that shows that Arteta is learning the balancing act of rotation with more skill.
At the same time though it did pose some interesting challenges. At times the England under-21 forward was back helping Kieran Tierney and found himself behind the ball when the position you really want him is closer to the opposition box where he can affect the game in the final third.
But this is the player Nketiah is developing into for Arsenal. Whereas before he received criticism for his all round game he’s developed into a player who can be relied upon to put a shift in no matter where he plays. The fact that Arteta was even confident enough to use him at left wing is a sign of how far he’s come. It may not have brought the best from him, but let’s instead focus on the fact that the Gunners have developed a player from their academy who’s now capable of helping the first team in a number of roles.
Arteta sets Bukayo Saka challenge
As the team news came out and it emerged that Bukayo Saka would be starting his fourth game in just 11 days the levels of anxiety among the Arsenal fanbase spiked faster than the pound after Liz Truss’ resignation.
Perhaps it’s because of his status as an academy graduate, or more likely because they see how important he is to the squad, but Gunners supporters are particularly protective of their Hale End star. The thought process for many is why risk him in a game of diminished importance when you’re going to need him come Sunday for the trip to Southampton? As he hobbled through the last few minutes his match after being raked down the back of his calf by a PSV defender’s studs, those questions grew even louder. After the game though Mikel Arteta was in no mood to entertain them.
“Look at the top players in the world, They play 70 matches every three days and make the difference and win the game,” the Spaniard said. “You want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that. And if we start to put something different in the mind of a young player, I think we are making a huge mistake because then [he would] be like, ‘no, I don’t play now, on astroturf I don’t play’. I don’t want that. I want them to be ruthless every three days. I want them knocking on my door [saying] I want to play, I want to win the game.
“There is no fitness coach in the world that is going to tell me that they cannot do it because I’ve seen it. 72 games and scored 50 goals. The players that score 50 goals do not play 38 games in the season, it’s just impossible.”
In many ways he is right. Last season Karim Benzema played 46 matches and scored 44 goals along the way to winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Ballon D’Or. At just 21, Saka will be hoping to reach those levels one day and it’s clear his manager has the belief that he can get there.
Arsenal fans have been burned in the past when it comes to overplaying prodigious talents like Jack Wilshere, so it’s understandable that they would be fearful that Saka could suffer the same fate. But as the England international transitions from youthful caterpillar in bustling butterfly it’s clear that Arteta has no intention of treating him with kid gloves any more. Perhaps it’s time Gunners supporters began thinking that way too.
Gakpo sends Arsenal transfer message
For all the talk of the games Bukayo Saka needs to play to reach the top level, it’s clear that there is a space in this Arsenal squad for another winger to bolster their options. Since Nicolas Pepe ‘s departure there has not been a replacement brought in and it seems that Mikel Arteta does not yet trust Marquinhos or Reiss Nelson to fill in in big matches having overlooked them for the starting line up on Thursday night.
In fairness to the Gunners they did try to address this in the dying days of the transfer window. Arteta spoke of the desire to add more firepower to his squad in mid-August, but injuries to Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey late in the market meant that the focus had to shift to adding depth in midfield instead.
When Arsenal were looking into these areas one of the players being consistently mentioned was PSV’s Cody Gakpo. While Arteta would not be drawn into commenting on the Dutch international, opposition manager Ruud Van Nistelrooy was willing to admit that the forward’s departure was inevitable at some point.
“It’s not only Premier League clubs after him,” Van Nistelrooy said. “His quality and form over the last three or four months has been exceptional. His stats and goals draw the attention of big clubs in European football. He is 23 and is focusing on his career with us at club level and having a great World Cup. He wants to continue that. When the time comes he will make decisions.”
Gakpo has done well to continue to build the hype around him this season by managing 13 goals and 11 assists already this season and as he arrived in north London sporting the captain’s armband this felt like the opportunity to send a message to Mikel Arteta and the rest of the watching world. Sadly though he could not take it.
Up against probably one of the best one-vs-one full backs in world football in Takehiro Tomiyasu, the Dutchman failed to make any impact on the game at all and largely faded into the background on the night. In fairness to him he was not helped by the surprisingly cautious approach his side took to the match in contrast to the attacking style they’ve been known for this season. By his own admission Gakpo wished the night could have gone better.
“Yeah, it was a great atmosphere and a good team,” he told Sportupdatehub after the match. “We tried our best, but we failed to get a result. It was a little bit frustrating instead of a real joy to play here.”
Safe to say this first chance at the Emirates Stadium did not go to plan for Gakpo. Only time will tell if he’s going to get another one.