Arsenal secured their place in the Europa League knockout stages with two group games to spare after a comfortable, albeit narrow, victory over PSV Eindhoven.
Although dominant throughout, it took the Gunners 70 minutes and more than 20 shots to finally get ahead in the game as Granit Xhaka found the back of the net.
It was all the home side right from the start, although shooting was wayward in the opening stages. Despite taking five shots at goal in the first 20 minutes, none were on target. Xhaka had the best of those early chances, receiving a layoff from Gabriel Jesus but sending the ball wide.
Jesus, who was particularly lively, was inches away from connecting with a smart through ball from Fabio Vieira. The Brazilian swung a leg as it skidded off the surface but couldn’t reach it before the ball was grasped by PSV goalkeeper Walter Benitez.
A flurry of chances came soon after the half hour mark, with Benitez tipping a deflected Bukayo Saka cross over the bar and Gabriel just failing to properly connect with a great headed chance. Vieira also lashed a free-kick into the side netting in the closing stages of the half.
PSV’s only sight of goal in the first half came when Xavi Simons burst forward from midfield and sent a long-range effort over the bar. The 19-year-old prodigy probably could have done better.
The chances kept coming after the break when Saka and Jesus combined well, but the latter couldn’t sufficiently dig the ball out of his feet to generate any power for the final shot. It was, at least, a first on target, with Benitez saving again from each player moments later. In that melee, Jesus also felt he had grounds for a penalty, gesturing that his shirt was being pulled.
The hour mark saw Benitez make his best top save yet to keep Jesus out, flying low to his right and getting a strong hand to the Brazilian’s shot.
The PSV resistance was finally broken 20 minutes from the end, with Xhaka holding his position at the edge of the penalty area and swinging his weaker right foot on the half volley at Takehiro Tomiyasi’s low cross. It could have been 2-0 almost immediately after when Saka’s bobbling effort after a darting run in from the right flank was gathered by Benitez.
As Arsenal tried to extend their lead, Benitez also saved from substitute Gabriel Martinelli and the Argentine stopper deserved credit overall for keeping the score-line down, even if his teammates were unable to create much of anything at the other end.
One more point on matchday five, when Arsenal face PSV again, would guarantee Mikel Arteta’s side top spot in the group and automatic passage straight to the last 16.
GK: Matt Turner – 6/10 – A spectator.
RB: Takehiro Tomiyasu – 7/10 – His telling burst forward made the critical breakthrough goal. A good squad player to call on.
CB: Rob Holding – 7/10 – Looked confident stepping out with the ball.
CB: Gabriel – 6/10 – Would have hoped to do better with a great chance to score in the first half.
LB: Kieran Tierney – 6/10 – Good on the ball but didn’t have the same decisive impact as Takehiro on the other side.
CM: Albert Sambi Lokonga – 5/10 – Not good enough to avoid Arteta turning to the ‘big guns’ when it was still 0-0 after more than an hour.
CM: Granit Xhaka (c) – 8/10 – Took a customary yellow for cleaning out Xavi Simons. But he played well in this one and his goal was well taken.
RM: Bukayo Saka – 8/10 – Combined well with Jesus to create chances and was bright throughout. Seemed to be carrying a slight knock by the end.
AM: Fabio Vieira – 6/10 – Took up good positions in the ‘number 10’ role but lacked enough incisive quality to make a breakthrough impact.
LM: Eddie Nketiah – 6/10 – Had a great chance in the second half that he made himself but lacked composure in the finish.
ST: Gabriel Jesus – 8/10 – A lively spark leading the line and was at the heart of most of the chances the team created.
SUB: Thomas Partey (67′ for Sambi Lokonga) – 6/10
SUB: Martin Odegaard (67′ for Vieira) – 6/10
SUB: Gabriel Martinelli (76′ for Jesus) – 7/10
SUB: Ben White (76′ for Tomiyasu) – 6/10
SUB: Reiss Nelson (85′ for Saka) – N/A
Manager: Mikel Arteta – 8/10 – The team that he picked from the start was doing enough to create chances, with only wayward finishing holding them back. When he threatened to shake things up by throwing in a couple of his more regular players, it sparked the remaining starters into life.
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