Europa: Arsenal aim to finish on top …take on PSV in last group game

Needing just a point to seal a first-placed finish in Europa League Group A with a game to spare, Arsenal board a plane to the Netherlands to face PSV Eindhoven tonight.

The Gunners hold a five-point lead over their second-placed Dutch counterparts, who could be left to battle for second place without a satisfactory result here.

While Xavi Simons in particular showed glimpses of his exciting potential at the Emirates, PSV never really got going against Arsenal at their North London headquarters, and Ruud van Nistelrooy would have been relieved to see the Gunners win by just the one goal.

Granit Xhaka’s first-ever right-footed goal for the club separated the two sides in the 70th minute of the match, meaning that PSV can only top Group A in an exceptional set of circumstances – winning each of their final two games versus Arsenal and Bodo/Glimt while also hoping that Mikel Arteta’s side slip up at home to FC Zurich on the final matchday.

A place in the knockout round playoffs should now be the goal for Van Nistelrooy’s side, who could guarantee a second-placed finish with a point if the scoreline in Bodo/Glimt’s clash with Zurich goes their way, but the Dutch powerhouses did not warm up for this game in ideal fashion.

PSV’s away day misfortunes carried over into the Eredivisie as they lost 4-2 to Groningen at the weekend, but their formula for success at the Philips Stadion has seen the hosts win five and draw one of their last six in front of their own fans in all tournaments.

The Boeren have also scored in each of their last 10 Europa League matches at their headquarters, although they will need to improve on their paltry tally of just four shots at the Emirates – their lowest in a continental game since 2016 – to throw the cat amongst the pigeons.

Arsenal struggling to kill games off while a goal to the good is nothing new, and that lack of ruthlessness cost the Gunners dear during their trip to Southampton, who limited Arteta’s men to just one strike before hitting back to claim a well-earned draw.

Xhaka followed up his goal against PSV with another lethal volley into the roof of the net – with his right foot again, no less – but a fatigued Arsenal side were undone by a Stuart Armstrong equaliser in the second half as their lead at the top was cut down to two points.

Having also struggled to assert their dominance in 1-0 wins over Bodo/Glimt and Leeds United, that result was arguably coming for Arsenal, who can rest easy in the knowledge that they are already guaranteed to finish in the top two of Group A and need only draw in the Netherlands to finish top.

That 1-1 at St Mary’s did at least extend Arsenal’s unbeaten run to nine matches in all competitions, and the North London giants have made the net ripple in each of their last 16 Europa League fixtures away from home, but a hint of apprehension may be creeping in as the unforgiving fixture schedule rears its ugly head.

Arsenal have failed to win on their last two visits to PSV Eindhoven’s turf – losing 1-0 in the last-16 2006-07 Champions League after playing out a 1-1 draw in 2004-05 – and one can only hope that football takes centre stage rather than a repeat of the fan disorder which marred last week’s Emirates clash. – SportsMole

Europa League fixtures today

FC Union v Braga

AEK Larnaca v Dynamo Kiev

FC Zurich v Bodo/Glimt

Fenerbahce v Rennes

Lazio v FC Midtjylland

Ludogorets v Real Betis

Malmo FF v Saint-Gilloise

PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal

CrvenaZvezda v Trabzonspor

Ferencvaros v Monaco

HJK Helsinki v Roma

Man United v Sheriff Tiraspol

Nantes v Qarabag FK

Omonia Nicosia v Real Sociedad

SC Freiburg v Olympiakos

Sturm Graz v Feyenoord

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