Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta may have been taking notes as Champions League football returned on Tuesday night.
And there were plenty of talking points as the round of 16 first-leg ties got underway.
Premier League leaders Manchester City thrashed Sporting CP 5-0 to all but make the second leg a formality, but the highlight of the night came in the Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Madrid game.
After Lionel Messi saw his penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois the game looked to be drifting towards a goalless draw – a result that would have favoured the La Liga giants more due to the away goals rule being scrapped.
But Kylian Mbappe had other ideas.
With 45 seconds left on the clock, the Frenchman latched onto Neymar’s brilliant backheel, managed to skip between Lucas Vazquez and Eder Militao and then was composed enough to slot the ball through Courtois’ legs to give PSG a slender advantage heading into next month’s second leg.
As per @CBSSportsGolazo on Twitter, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry along with fellow punidts Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards all screamed in unison in the CBS Sports studio when Mbappe broke the deadlock at the Parc des Princes.
Meanwhile, Los Blancos manager Carlo Ancelotti labelled Mbappe the “best player in Europe” following his moment of magic.
“Mbappe is the best player in European football,” Ancelotti said. “Mbappe is unstoppable, we have tried to control him. Militao has done very well, but he is a player who always invents something.”
Aside from the goal, Mbappe was PSG’s standout player. He won the penalty that Messi subsequently missed and gave Dani Carvajal an uncomfortable night of defending.
This is what’s in store for Arsenal should Arteta’s three-year plan come to fruition as early as next season.
As revealed by Willian prior to putting pen-to-paper on a three-year deal at the Emirates Stadium in the summer of 2020, the Spaniard’s aim was to end the Gunners’ absence from the Champions League and win the competition by 2023.
“One of the reasons I wanted a three-year deal was to be part of a plan, not just a player passing through,” the Brazilian said, as per Sky Sports. “When I talked with the manager he told me why he needed me for three years.
“It was that he first wanted to qualify for the Champions League and win it by the time I left.
“That was what I wanted to hear.”
Willian’s decision to swap west London for north London ultimately backfired with Chelsea winning the Champions League last season and him no longer being at Arsenal to achieve this plan.
But if Arteta’s plan to oversee the Gunners’ return to Europe’s top table is still in place, he has the rest of this season and next in order to do so via their Premier League finish.
Although, should Arsenal fail to clinch a top-four finish this season, the Spaniard would therefore miss out on the chance to become the first manager in the club’s history lift the trophy and keep his three-year plan intact.
With that said, the Gunners are in a great position to win the top-four battle as they’re four points off Manchester United having played three games fewer.
So in the dream scenario that sees Arsenal qualify for the Champions League next season, there’s every chance of coming up against Mbappe whether he’s still at PSG or if he makes the move to Real Madrid.
As both clubs are on course to win their respective domestic leagues, they would be in Pot 1 for the group stage draw.
Having not been in the competition for five seasons, the best Arsenal could hope for is Pot 2 but that means they could be paired with either PSG or Real Madrid.