Arsenal’s meeting with PSV Eindhoven last Thursday did not deliver the goal fest it had promised but while the Dutch side were disappointing on the night, the Gunners carved out enough chances to net a hatful.
It ended only 1-0 to Mikel Arteta’s side but it is no exaggeration to say that Arsenal could and perhaps should have scored three or four in a dominant, free-flowing performance.
Most importantly, it secured progress into the Europa League knockout stages and Arteta must now decide whether it is more important to go for top spot in Group A or consider it job done and take the opportunity to rest players.
Logic would suggest the latter.
With a manic fixture schedule to navigate until the World Cup break and FC Zurich arriving at the Emirates on Matchday 6 — a side so poor that even a second-string Arsenal squad should get a result off them if desired — the priority for Arteta this Thursday must surely be to keep his main men fresh for more important tests to come.
PSV forwards Luuk de Jong and Noni Madueke returned to the squad for the trip to North London last week, as did full-back Mauro Junior. All three came off the bench in Sunday’s trip to FC Groningen so will be pushing for a start on Thursday.
Midfielder Marco van Ginkel also returned to the bench at Groningen so could be in line for minutes off the bench, but centre forward Yorbe Vertessen, attacking midfielder Ismael Saibari, defender Olivier Boscagli and young goalkeeper Kjell Peersman are all set to miss out.
Arteta may choose to make sweeping changes to his starting line-up but will certainly be without attacking midfielder Emile Smith Rowe and long-term absentee Mohamed Elneny.
Left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko has a chance of returning from a calf injury so could get a few minutes off the bench.
Ruud van Nistelrooy’s visitors managed just four shots and only one on target at the Emirates last week as they were thoroughly outclassed by an Arsenal side who racked up 25 shots and eight on target while bossing 63% possession.
However, that shot-shy display was out of keeping for a PSV team who had scored 17 in their previous four games and are netting an average of 3.2 goals per game this season in the Eredivisie and Europa League.
Arsenal are a step up in class to PSV’s usual standard of opponent, but a Gunners side who are sure to be heavily rotated — and could potentially give a couple of youth team players a run-out — are likely to be some way below the usual levels.
However, Arsenal have scored in all 15 games this term, netting in last weekend’s draw at Southampton and also in their only defeat of the season, 3-1 away at Old Trafford.
Arsenal have already guaranteed their progress to the knockout stages but the prize of a top-spot finish — which skips the play-off round and would see the Gunners straight through to the round of 16 — makes this a tricky game to gauge.
With three Premier League matches, Matchday 6 of the Europa League and a Carabao Cup tie to come before Arsenal break for the World Cup, and with fatigue an increasing concern, Arteta will surely rest his star men.
PSV, however, will be keen to win this match and avoid their final game at Bodo/Glimt becoming a straight shootout to see who finishes as group runners-up.
That should ensure the hosts are more focused and Van Nistelrooy’s men will be determined to show their home supporters that they possess far more quality than they offered in North London.