Arsenal had a host of chances missed by Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and David Ospina to thank for a point rescued, as both sides finished with 10-men on a thrilling night in Paris.
The fans were bewildered by Arsene Wenger’s odd team selection as Arsenal, not for the first time this season, went without a focal point up front.
Despite having signed Lucas Perez and Olivier Giroud being fit, Alexis Sanchez started as the center forward, a position he struggled in during the games against Liverpool and Leicester City. Granit Xhaka, the club’s 32-million-pound summer signing, also started on the bench for the second competitive game in a row while Ospina got the nod ahead of veteran keeper Petr Cech.
The strange team selection was punished immediately and brutally. PSG got off to a flyer, scoring before Arsenal could even get a touch of the ball. Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani headed in Serge Aurier’s cross to make it 1-0 to the home side after 44 seconds. It was the quickest goal that Arsenal have conceded in European competitions.
What followed were a number of chances falling at the feet of PSG players. Adrien Rabiot, having been put clean through on goal, had his shot blocked thanks to a last-ditch challenge by captain Laurent Koscielny.
Though he was the difference between the teams at that point, Cavani was also the reason that PSG didn’t extend their lead. He pounced on Marco Veratti’s deflected pass, and though he rounded Ospina, the striker couldn’t convert with an open goal from fifteen yards.
A short while later, with only Ospina to beat, he failed to control a long ball from Angel Di Maria, taking a heavy touch with his chest and missing the volley completely. At this juncture, the French champions had had enough chances to put the game to bed.
Arsenal were slightly better after the restart and began to grow into the game. Time after time, the lack of an out and out striker proved costly as they kept failing in the final third after some slick build-up play. PSG kept creating chances at the other end with each of them demanding a finish and in some cases, begging one.
Di Maria was one on one with Ospina and only a backtracking Monreal did just about enough to put him off. Ospina again rose to stamp his authority on the game as he thwarted Aurier after he was released by a defence-splitting combination move with Di Maria. The Colombian then kept Di Maria’s shot at bay before denying Cavani an opportunity to round him by steering the ball outside.
The big moment for Arsenal finally came in the 78th minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s substitution saw Giroud coming off the bench. This allowed Sanchez to get back to his favoured left-wing position and he was at the heart of every Arsenal attack thereafter.
In one such attack, Iwobi’s powerful shot from Mesut Ozil’s cross was saved by the PSG keeper Alphonse Areola only for Sanchez to smash the rebound into the net at the goalie’s near post. The scoreline read 1-1 and PSG were left to rue their missed chances.
However, the night did not end on a good note for Arsenal when Giroud, already on a yellow card, got involved in an off-the-ball altercation with Marco Verratti which ended with both men being given the marching orders by Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai.
Hence, almost as a flashback to last season, Giroud will now be missing Matchday 2 when Arsenal take on Basel at home on September 28.
Ultimately, it was Wenger’s controversial decision to field Ospina and wasteful finishing by the home side which saved the day for Arsenal on the opening game of their Champions League campaign.
The Colombian shot-stopper proved to be the difference between the two sides and which ensured that Arsenal left Paris with a point.