Granit Xhaka’s volley ensured Arsenal secured qualification for the Europa League’s knockout stages with two games to spare, firing the Gunners to a 1-0 home win over PSV.
Mikel Arteta selected a strong side as Arsenal looked to ensure their progression from Group A on Thursday, but PSV appeared likely to make them wait after producing a resolute defensive display.
Walter Benitez kept Arsenal at bay until the 70th minute, but Xhaka expertly diverted a right-wing delivery into the bottom-left corner to seal the hosts’ progress.
While Arsenal are now assured of a place in the Europa League’s knockout stages, a point in next week’s return fixture will guarantee them top spot and a bye to the competition’s round of 16.
Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus both dragged left-footed efforts wide as Arsenal laid siege to PSV’s goal in the early exchanges, with Kieran Tierney also sending a wild volley over.
Fabio Vieira then whipped a free-kick wide of the bottom-left corner after 41 minutes, with Arteta’s team failing to manage a shot on target before the break as PSV stood firm.
Arsenal improved after the restart, but Benitez made an excellent one-on-one save to deny Bukayo Saka after 53 minutes before turning Jesus’ effort away following a slaloming run from the Brazilian.
Eddie Nketiah then smashed an effort narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
But just when Arsenal appeared to be running out of ideas, Xhaka had the final say.
The Switzerland international swivelled on Takehiro Tomiyasu’s delivery to drill a right-footed effort beyond the dive of Benitez from just inside the area, ensuring Arsenal’s progress.
What does it mean? – Perfect Gunners progress
Arsenal began their Europa League campaign with three successive victories for the fifth time in as many seasons competing in the competition. In only one of those previous instances, however, had the Gunners gone on to win their fourth group game (in 2020-21).
Arteta demonstrated his desire to seal a top-two spot with time to spare by selecting a strong team, and Arsenal dominated throughout as they managed 25 attempts to PSV’s four, the Gunners’ chances worth 2.6 expected goals (xG).
Xhaka’s goal was the least the Gunners deserved after remaining patient at the Emirates, and Arsenal will now be supremely confident of securing first place in Group A.
Xhaka continues redemption arc
Few players have enjoyed a turnaround as spectacular as that of Xhaka; once deemed surplus to requirements and maligned by his own supporters, the tenacious midfielder has emerged as a leader in Arteta’s bright young team.
Xhaka has now scored as many goals this campaign (three) as in his previous three seasons combined, while Thursday’s goal represented his first for Arsenal to not be scored with his left foot.
Ruud welcome for Van Nistelrooy
PSV coach Ruud van Nistelrooy did not exactly enjoy facing Arsenal as a player. The former striker only scored twice in 12 meetings with the Gunners as a Manchester United player, his worst goals-per-game rate against any side he faced more than five times with the Red Devils (0.2).
Unfortunately for the Dutchman, his team did not fare much better in front of goal on Thursday, recording just one shot on target and failing to seriously test Matt Turner in the Arsenal goal.
Arsenal will look to maintain their scintillating start to the Premier League campaign at Southampton on Sunday, while PSV travel to Groningen for an Eredivisie encounter on the same day.