Mikel Arteta was handed a timely reminder of how quickly things can change in football after his rotated Arsenal side fell to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of PSV Eindhoven.
The Spaniard opted to make five changes from the 1-1 draw with Southampton to keep his squad fresh, with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus rested having started on the bench. But it was an entirely different contest from their first clash at the Emirates as PSV roared to victory.
The Gunners only required a point to seal their progress as group winners to the knockout stages but were fortunate to go into the break on level terms after Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons both had goals ruled out for offside after a VAR check.
But Joey Veerman struck home shortly after the interval to hand PSV a deserved lead and from there, Arsenal crumbled. An error from Aaron Ramsdale allowed Luuk de Jong to head home from a corner to double the lead and Gakpo nearly made it three, only to see the flag go up against him a second time.
Express Sport shines a light on the players who failed to shine at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven.
Albert Sambi Lokonga
Arteta, when asked about Lokonga’s pleas for more playing time, laid down a challenge to the midfielder: “We will see more and he needs to prove that what he’s asking for, he can produce on the pitch,” he said.
With playing time at a premium, the Belgian knows he has to grasp opportunities of this kind with both hands, even if it means putting himself in the shop window. And the 23-year-old did not look out of sorts in the centre of the park, taking on Thomas Partey’s role of keeping possession ticking over and making intelligent tactical fouls to break up the play.
He also completed 90 per cent of his passes, but the second half was a different story. Lokonga simply went missing when Arsenal lost the ball in their own defensive third and Veerman’s run was not tracked as he struck home. Arteta made a quick change, hauling off the Belgian and Martin Odegaard, which shows exactly what he thought about his display.
Given how he has performed almost flawlessly for Arsenal this season, it is safe to assume Saliba was always destined to have one or two iffy performances at the back.
Tested by the pace and skill of exciting starlet Xavi Simons, with Cody Gakpo, the Frenchman looked uncertain of his position in the back four and PSV thrived upon it.
The 21-year-old was found wanting when Veerman finished expertly past Ramsdale, caught ball-watching while Luuk de Jong was in possession. And while there is much to be excited about with the centre-back’s future guaranteed at the Emirates, this performance will provide some concern – and Arteta will be hoping it is an anomaly rather than the new norm.
At one stage in the first half, Arteta made his frustration known to Nketiah, barking at the striker after he failed to make a simple pass to Kieran Tierney. And that summed up his anonymous display which is likely to keep him out of the team as Arteta reverts back to Gabriel Jesus.
The striker’s attempts to lead the line were futile and there was a clear gulf between what the 23-year-old could offer in comparison with Jesus, being outmuscled by Jarrad Branthwaite in the PSV backline as he was hardly involved in the first half.
The former England Under-21 striker has been begging for a chance to prove he deserves more minutes, but this display only highlighted why he is a backup forward at present. With no attacking guile and a struggle to link-up with Gabriel Martinelli, it seems he will be confined to the bench for the weeks to come.
The goalkeeper has become accustomed to winning since joining Arsenal but the England international could have few complaints about his team-mates’ poor performance while he was to blame for the second goal.
Ramsdale came rushing off his line to push away the corner delivery from Veerman on 53 minutes. Instead, the stopper completely misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing De Jong to head home into an empty net.
Arsenal did have Ramsdale to thank for keeping the scoreline respectable, denying the excellent De Jong and Simons later in the game as PSV pressed for a third. But by that point, the damage was done – and only Gareth Southgate knows how much influence that error will have on his decision over his number one choice for the World Cup.