With only a point required to seal a top-two finish in the Europa League, Arsenal resume continental duties in their rescheduled meeting with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven on Thursday night.
The Gunners were initially due to welcome Ruud van Nistelrooy’s men to the Emirates Stadium for their Group A battle last month, but the death and state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II forced the authorities to rearrange the match.
For the first time this season, Arsenal were fortunate to come away from a match with all three points to their name, as Leeds United huffed and puffed but ultimately fell victim to Bukayo Saka’s goal in a tensely-fought contest at Elland Road.
Prior to finishing eighth in the Kopa Trophy, Saka lashed home from a tight angle before Patrick Bamford fluffed his lines from 12 yards, but the England striker would seemingly be handed a chance to rectify his earlier mistake in the dying embers after Gabriel Magalhaes appeared to kick out at him.
However, VAR – which took nearly 40 minutes to get up and running again after a power cut – spotted an earlier foul on Gabriel from Bamford, seeing the Arsenal man stay on the pitch and the penalty award revoked, and Mikel Arteta’s side now hold a four-point lead over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the summit.
The Premier League table is not the only one that the exciting Gunners are top of right now, as a perfect tally of nine points from three Europa League games puts them two clear of PSV Eindhoven in Group A and five above third-placed Bodo/Glimt, whom they also beat via a 1-0 scoreline on artificial Norwegian turf last week.
Due to their head-to-head results against Bodo/Glimt, Arsenal will guarantee a place in the knockout round play-offs at the very least with a draw on Thursday, and a win would mean that they would require just two points from their final two games to finish top and advance to the last-16.
Arteta has now witnessed his crop win seven games on the bounce in all competitions – as well as each of their last nine at home with two goals on each occasion – but they will face the biggest test to their continental supremacy this week.
Scoring 11 goals across back-to-back matches could hardly be better preparation for a daunting trip to the Emirates, and PSV must harness such a clinical energy if they are to throw the cat amongst the pigeons in Group A after thumping FC Zurich 5-0 last week.
Joey Veerman was on target twice alongside strikes from Erick Gutierrez, Ibrahim Sangare and Anwar El Ghazi to keep PSV within touching distance of the Gunners, taking seven points from their first three games to sit second in the rankings at the halfway mark.
Victory on Thursday would take Van Nistelrooy’s side six points clear of Bodo/Glimt with two games to go, but they must still tackle the Norwegian side again after a 1-1 draw in their opening match, so they will be made to wait for qualification no matter what happens at the Emirates this week.
PSV did not lose their golden touch after putting five unanswered goals past Zurich, thrashing Utrecht 6-1 in the Eredivisie to remain one point behind perennial champions Ajax in the table, and it is now four wins in the trot for Van Nistelrooy’s men in all tournaments.
Arsenal and PSV have met six times down the years in the Champions League, with Arsene Wenger’s team being eliminated from the 2006-07 last-16 2-1 on aggregate, but the Dutch outfit have only scored three goals across their 540 minutes of football with their North London hosts.
Arsenal Europa League form:
Arsenal form (all competitions):
PSV Eindhoven Europa League form:
PSV Eindhoven form (all competitions):
We say: Arsenal 2-2 PSV Eindhoven
How Arsenal came away from their meetings with Bodo/Glimt and Leeds with two clean sheets is still beyond belief, and a similar performance to Sunday’s from the Gunners would certainly see them punished by a ruthless PSV side.
With the Emirates crowd behind them after a few days of recovery, Arteta will expect his reshuffled side to be back to their best to seal a place in the knockout rounds, but PSV can feel confident of taking a point back to base following an entertaining spectacle.