If there were any lingering doubts about how the Gunners’ young squad would cope with this vaunted stage, they were quickly dismissed in a ruthless display of attacking verve to see off PSV Eindhoven.
The scoreline could, and should have been even more one-sided, but, by half-time, Arteta and his starting XI had already begun looking towards the north London derby back here on Sunday, following goals from Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Jesus.
A raft of second-half substitutions gave the hosts a second wind, and captain Martin Odegaard added deserved gloss to the display with a magnificent fourth goal.
Arsenal came into this game having not played in the Champions League for six years, since a 5-1 defeat by Bayern Munich and with a group of players inexperienced at this level; only 11 of Arteta’s squad had played in the Champions League before and just one — Mohamed Elneny — for the Gunners.
While clear favourites, the sense of occasion might have got to a lesser team on an emotionally-charged night, and even the steely Arteta admitted to pre-match butterflies, though he worked hard to hide his feelings.
“I was [emotional], yeah,” said the manager. “I was really excited about it. I wanted to control it and not show that too much, but I was really excited.
“It was a beautiful night after such a long time. We wanted to produce the right performance to win the game. It was great to see the atmosphere and [hear] the Champions League music. Everyone was getting a bit emotional before it.”
Arsenal channelled the atmosphere superbly and took to the job of dismantling PSV with the ruthlessness of a more experienced side, exploiting the space left by the Eredivisie leaders and showing a clinical streak in front of goal.
“In the box we were exceptional, we were ruthless, we took our chances,” said Arteta. “[It] was top. And, as well, we could have done more.
“Especially from box to box, there are things we should have done much, much better. That’s every single day you have to be at it. You have to be really analytical to try to improve.
“At the same time, credit to the boys. To play the way they played in certain moments and score four goals in the Champions League against a team that hasn’t lost all season, credit to them.”
Before Wednesday, Arsenal had yet to really click into gear this season, making surprisingly hard work of their unbeaten start to the campaign, but they found their groove in a party atmosphere here.
Arsenal channelled the atmosphere superbly and took to the job of dismantling PSV with the ruthlessness of a more experienced side
They threatened every time they crossed the halfway line in the first half, with Saka and Trossard menacing, while Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko dictated the tempo. Declan Rice continued to stand out.
Saka opened the scoring with a composed finish when goalkeeper Walter Benitez parried Odegaard’s shot, before the England winger crossed for Trossard to finish brilliantly from the edge of the box.
Really, there should have been no doubts that players such as Saka and Rice, both making their first appearances in this competition, would thrive in the Champions League, given their performances on the biggest stage for their country, but their displays marked another significant juncture in their careers.
For all Arsenal’s quality, PSV were wildly open, in keeping with head coach Peter Bosz’s gung-ho philosophy.
Saka, particularly, was afforded the kind of space that no Premier League side would dream of allowing him, while Jesus had enough time to trap Trossard’s cross in the middle of the penalty box before scoring the third, killing the game as a contest in the 38th minute.
There should be much tougher tests to come, but Arsenal’s group is favourable on paper, admittedly with more of a Europa League feel — not least because it contains the holders and seven-time winners Sevilla, as well as Ligue 1 strugglers Lens, who earned a credible draw in Spain on Wednesday.
The one-sidedness of the contest here was further evidence of the gaping chasm between the Premier League and the rest of European football, and the sense that the Champions League group stage has rapidly ceased to hold much intrigue in the years since Arsenal were last in the competition.
No wonder UEFA are changing the format from next season, even if many believe ‘the Swiss model’ will ultimately be even worse.
For this term, many of Arsenal’s players may be new to this stage, but the Gunners should nonetheless be considered among the biggest hitters in this year’s competition, as Wednesday night’s triumph return perfectly illustrated.