The stakes were clear before kickoff – this game would likely decide who tops the group and therefore obtain easier passage in the knockout stages.
The result did not go according to plan, as Arsenal’s old favourite – Own Goal – firstly came to our rescue and then switched sides to earn the Parisian side a draw and the slightly better head to head record – which leaves the Gunners hoping Ludogorets can pull off a miracle and take points in Paris in the last group game.
The team selection for the game saw supersub Olivier Giroud take the strker spot, with Alexis thrust out on the right and Alex Iwobi given his usual role on the left. The more surprising selection was the return of Aaron Ramsey in the centre of the park, alongside sentry Francis Coquelin. The dynamic in the middle of the park against United last weekend was sedentary at best with Coquelin and Elneny, so Wenger added a little mobility with the Welshman.
The away fixture at the Parc Des Princes saw PSG bully Arsenal across the pitch for 60 minutes but fail to take the victory, and this match began in the same fashion. Unai Emery’s side, although missing some big hitters, were invited by Arsenal to crash wave after wave of attack upon the home defence, and within 18 minutes, they had the lead.
Edinson Cavani, so profligate in the 1-1 draw previously between the two sides, tucked away Blaise Matuidi’s cross from close range, and it gave Arsene Wenger’s team plenty of work to do to avoid a first loss since the opening day of the season.
The entire first half saw a recurring pattern; Arsenal fail to construct a move to escape from pressure, and PSG attempting to capitalise on their failings. It saw Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez drop ever deeper to try and affect the malfunctioning machine they were playing for.
It looked like it was going to be a long night, until the two players aforementioned teamed up to finally give home fans something to cheer. Mesut picked up the ball outside of the box, and a delicious reverse ball picked out Alexis, who jinked back inside his man and fall over a trailing leg.
Olivier Giroud stepped up to put the spot kick away, and it was just before the half time whistle – the perfect time to score.
The second half was thankfully easier on the eye for Gooners, as the ramifications of finishing second in the group suddenly dawned upon them, or so it seemed. The movement that was bereft in the first half – and the last few weeks – returned, and they at least bared their teeth. The half was pretty even, but the initiative was with Arsenal, and on the hour, the Gunners took the lead.
The ball was pinged in from the right by Carl Jenkinson, and after a shot was blocked, the ball fizzed a short distance to Marco Verratti, who could do nothing to stop the ball bouncing off his leg and into the net.
An own goal had come to the rescue again, but Lucas Moura’s free kick clipped the crossbar as PSG desperately attempted to claw their way back.
They were worth at least a draw, and so it proved, as ‘own goal’ switched sides, as a cross found the head of Lucas Moura, and it deflected off Alex Iwobi and found its way past our keeper in the 77th minute. Iwobi had tried to clear but it went horribly wrong, and the anguished look on his face told the entire story.
It could’ve been worse had Cavani been better in great positions, but the points were shared when the final whistle blew. There was far more to take from the game than the goals though.
Here are 5 keypoints from the 90 minutes:
Ramsey can nail down a centre place
I was wrong. I have stated in the past that Aaron should not play in the centre and that he is best suited in the attack, but after only a few games back from injury, his effort, his distribution and willingness in both ends of the pitch shone through. He made mistakes, but he was always at the keen end of the blade, and he didn’t stop. He still has some work to do, but Ramsey can be a solution in the centre, if he can find form and consistency.
Jenkinson needs to put some hours in on the training pitch
Jenkinson was pretty reliable on the defensive side, but his passing was poor, and his decision making was lacking. If he is to create a long term future with the club of his dreams, then these mistakes must be ironed out. He has improved at the back, but at Arsenal, the full-backs are a vital piece of the attack. He must learn, and quickly.
Help Ozil and Alexis
The two most talented at the club looked like they were drowning at times. It is no coincidence that the majority of times we score, one of these two are responsible in some way. The same happened here when, against the run of play, it was Ozil’s vision and Alexis’s positioning that earned a penalty. The majority of the match saw them ply their trade far too deep to make the impact they are accustomed too though. Alexis was trying to make 30-40 yard passes, and Ozil was looking for runs that simply were not there. Our team need to feed from the inspiration they provide, rather than just watch them.
Coquelin really needs to work on his passing
Francis is the destroyer, and he does it ever so well. The problem is though, that this is all he seems capable of doing. A lengthy debate with a fellow Gooner opened my eyes to this and – whilst I am still of the belief that his role can be of value next to a midfielder who can run with the ball – Coquelin really needs to improve his passing. The team were ignoring his availability which is happening with alarming frequency, and this effectively puts the team a man down when we attack. Coquelin is excellent on sentry duty, but without Santi to pass and move for him, his limits are there for all to see.
Second or first, we will have a tough tie.
We may be finishing as runners up in the group again, but it is not all doom and gloom. The chances are that Bayern Munich and Real Madrid may just be finishing in their respective runners up spot also, so we could avoid hellish ties with two giants. The other side of that coin is that we could still get Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Juventus. Any team we face in the Last16 will be difficult, but if we can avoid the big four of Real, Barca, Bayern and Atletico, then we should fancy ourselves for progression. As long as it isn’t in November.
There was more that was worth noting. Koscielny and Mustafi had played far better than this game, Koscielny in particular was off his game. Keiran Gibbs was substandard as an attacking outlet, and Iwobi must improve his decision making if he is to take his talent to the next level.
So, we march on with still only one loss this season. We may be playing poorly on the whole, but the strength of character shown in these matches that we have failed to play well in is visible to all, and any previous season we would have crumbled. We need to look at the positives and there are still plenty, despite our play at times being incredibly frustrating.
It could be worse, we could be out of Europe, below our rivals and suffering from years of neglect and lack of Vitamin D – like tottenham…..