LONDON — Arsenal’s return to the Champions League after six long years was nothing short of a celebration. The excitement was so infectious that they even printed the competition’s anthem lyrics in their matchday program. Though not everyone sang along to “Zadok The Priest,” you could feel the collective cheer as the music filled the rain-soaked Emirates Stadium. It was like a collective exhale, a release of all the frustration from missing out on Europe’s top club competition.
Arsenal was on a mission to make their mark on this big stage, and boy, did they deliver. They secured a solid 4-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven, showing the kind of confidence usually seen in seasoned Champions League teams. Surprisingly, none of the players from their last Champions League match in 2017 were still wearing the Arsenal jersey.
In fact, only one player, midfielder Mohamed Elneny, remained from that era. With their manager, Mikel Arteta, being a Champions League newbie, you might have expected some jitters. But there were no signs of nerves, just pure excitement coursing through their veins.
Arteta, reflecting on the moment, said in his post-match chat, “It was incredible to feel the atmosphere and hear the Champions League music. Everyone was emotional, including me. I tried to keep my cool, but I was genuinely thrilled.”
“Our journey started last year when we earned our place in this competition, which is where our club belongs. Now, we’ve got to consistently perform at this level.”
“I believe we harnessed that energy and emotion really well. It’s about savoring these moments because, in the end, these are the memories that will last.”
While PSV’s defense left much to be desired, Arsenal showed clinical precision in front of the goal, something Arteta had been wishing for in the Premier League. In this match, they raced to a 3-0 lead within 38 minutes, with Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard, and Gabriel Jesus finding the net. PSV just couldn’t keep up with Arsenal’s firepower, allowing Arteta to make some second-half substitutions with an eye on the North London derby. Key players like Jesus, Saka, and Declan Rice got a well-deserved rest, and Martin Ødegaard added a fourth goal in his signature style in the 70th minute.
PSV’s performance served as a gauge of Arsenal’s progress since their encounter in the Europa League group stage last season. Back in October, PSV narrowly lost by a single goal in North London but managed to win the return fixture 2-0.
Arsenal has invested significantly since then, bringing in Trossard in January and adding Rice and Kai Havertz in the summer. This resounding victory provides a solid foundation for their Group B campaign.
On a different note, the decision to start David Raya as the goalkeeper could have been a hot topic on any other night. Arteta had hinted at rotating goalkeepers this season, but Aaron Ramsdale might be feeling a bit uneasy now that Raya started for the second consecutive game.
Any thought that Ramsdale might be Arsenal’s cup competition goalkeeper was swiftly dispelled. If Raya starts against Tottenham Hotspur and Ramsdale takes the reins for next Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie against Brentford, that should settle the matter.
Raya’s footwork was the main reason Arsenal went for the Spanish international. They brought him in on an initial season-long loan from Brentford, with an option to make the move permanent, which they’re likely to take up. The significance of Raya’s role was evident right from the start of the game.
Gabriel Jesus passed the ball back to Raya, who initiated an Arsenal attack, allowing the defensive line to start from a higher position on the pitch. Raya ended the game with 58 touches, more than midfielder Havertz, who played the full 90 minutes and delivered one of his more promising performances in an Arsenal shirt.
Arteta, not wanting to dive deeper into the goalkeeper decision, simply explained it as “a belief that I had in the team I wanted to field against the expected opponent. Not only that, I made the other changes for the same reason.”
Arteta had playfully been teased by some for playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during training to prepare his players for facing Liverpool at Anfield, only to lose the match. But this time, Arsenal looked like they belonged in the Champions League, joke or not.