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Arsenal’s draw with PSV offers a gloomy glimpse into Champions League future

PSV 1-1 Arsenal (Vertessen 50′ | Nketiah 42′)

Arsenal missed the chance to end their Champions League group stage with a win as they played out an entertaining draw with PSV Eindhoven.

Eddie Nketiah gave the Gunners the lead with a well-taken finish before PSV deservedly equalised through Yorbe Vertessen. Both clubs had already secured their places in the last-16 and with Arsenal guaranteed top spot already, the managers took the opportunity to rotate and experiment.

Peter Bosz made five changes from PSV’s win over Heerenveen last Thursday, while Mikel Arteta trumped that with eight from Saturday’s loss at Villa Park. Gabriel Magalhaes, William Saliba and Kai Havertz kept their places, while Aaron Ramsdale made his long-awaited Champions League debut.

It is not the fault of Arsenal or PSV that Sevilla and Lens provided such limited opposition, but an essentially pointless dead rubber contest offered a gloomy glimpse into football’s immediate future. From next season, the Champions League will be expanded from 32 to 36 clubs, creating two additional group stage fixtures per club. Nobody in football wants more unnecessary fixtures added to the calendar, except of course Uefa and maybe Mohamed Elneny.

Despite the lack of jeopardy, the two patched-up sides did their best to give it some meaning. An early quicksilver PSV counter-attack looked certain to end in a goal but Ramsdale and Gabriel combined to keep first Patrick van Aanholt and then Ricardo Pepi at bay. Ramsdale, who had more skin in the game than most, took a whack on the foot for his troubles, but soldiered gamely on.

Before the half hour mark both sides had tested the robustness of the woodwork. A Vertessen header beat Ramsdale’s despairing dive but clanked off the upright, before Elneny, who has played 98 minutes of Premier League football in the past 18 months, lashed a low drive from distance onto the foot of the post.

When the breakthrough came it was created by one Hale End product and finished off by another. Reiss Nelson scampered into space lifted his head and rolled the ball across to Nketiah who took one touch to steady himself and a second to arrow an accurate left-footed drive into the bottom corner via the post for his seventh goal of the campaign.

While there was little to learn from Arsenal’s starting XI a few PSV players caught the eye, notably their two young Belgian wingers on either flank. Johan Bakayoko, a daring, dribbling demon was especially impressive and drew a decent stop from Ramsdale late in the first-half, before Vertessen bent a finish in off the far post to draw the Eredivisie’s runaway leaders level. Based on this evidence, the pair could be coming to a Premier League team near you soon.

Arteta made a triple change on 60 minutes, but the experienced heads of Ben White, Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard were preferred to the fresh-faced Ethan Nwaneri, Lino Sousa and Reuell Walters. It seemed an oversight on Arteta’s part to not give any of the teenagers a chance to impress, no matter how fleeting, on the grand European stage. With qualification wrapped up it seemed an invaluable opportunity wasted.

The multi-functional Rice was pressed into action as a centre-back and his first contribution was to deflect Ismael Saibari’s shot onto the goal frame. With nothing to play for both sides flooded forward in search of a winner. Jakub Kiwior thought he had scored it only for his header to be called back for a Gabriel offside, while Guus Til dragged a low shot wide at the other end. Kiwior then blazed over with the last kick of the game to ensure an even contest ended that way.

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