Arsenal 2 – 2 Paris St Germain
So, Arsène, about this ‘big statement’ we had to make last night. Remind me, what was it again? Something about beating ‘big’ clubs? Well, we certainly did something big last night; a big balls-up of the whole situation.
A draw? We got away with it again. History books will show we played PSG twice, drew twice. Not a bad pair of results but there was something achingly familiar about last night’s match; it was not quite a re-run of the first meeting in Paris although not far short.
We didn’t concede an early goal but we did concede first. Another Cavani show and if the guy could finish consistently, he would be the first £100m footballer. I lost count of how many chances he missed; shot wide or at Ospina, or just headed wide.
He made it count on one occasion. When Matuidi turned Mustafi, his cross was expertly finished by Cavani who eluded Koscielny and Gibbs at the far post. The defending wasn’t good but PSG had served notice of their intent previously when Gibbs had cleared one off the line, although it looked as if it was going wide.
PSG were giving Arsenal a defensive masterclass. Every attack was snuffed out by numbers and well-time tackles or interceptions. When Iwobi threatened to unleash a piledriver, he was continually forced inside until he ran into two or three defenders. Forced into playing on the counter, we were then seduced into cul-de-sacs.
Until close to half-time when Alexis kissed the turf after falling theatrically. The referee didn’t give the decision initially so either the lino or fifth official did. PSG felt aggrieved and Cavani was in the thick of it, flicking a hand into Aaron Ramsey’s chest. The Welsh international needs to work on his theatrics. Holding his face, he looked like a schoolboy who had bitten too hard on some toffee than a genuinely hurt adult. La Liga expects more.
The time-wasting shenanigans didn’t have the desired effect as Giroud swept the ball home confidently. All level at the interval with another French striker getting to grips with the men in blue. This time it wasn’t a lorry driver outside of Calais burning tyres but Giroud putting his hands around Cavani’s neck, dealing with the Uruguayan as a team-mate should.
The second half was much better from Arsenal’s perspective; there was more purpose, more aim about their play. Despite that, it was PSG who almost took the lead when Lucas’ free kick rattled the woodwork. It was a tremendous shot and Ospina could do little but watch and pray.
And then Arsenal’s fortunes seemed to turn. Jenkinson’s cross was cleared against Veratti’s shin, hitting him mid-stride and the ball flew into the net. Comedy gold and more importantly, Arsenal finishing top of the group. Sunnier times were threatened as the game edged nervously toward its conclusion.
But just when you thought it was safe to stop covering your eyes, the football gods gave Arsenal the middle finger as Alex Iwobi, guarding the near post, didn’t get anywhere near enough power on a header and glanced it past Ospina. The Colombian was diving to his right and had a comfortable save to make before the Nigerian international’s intervention.
Arsène and the players tried to put a positive spin on it all but claims that we were dominant for large parts of the game may be true statistically but we didn’t threaten PSG’s goal. Wenger was right in pointing out we were too deep, too reluctant to press. It left PSG time on the ball and space to play in but even on the rare occasions we did press, they were confident and comfortable in playing their way out of trouble.
It’s another lesson we’ve learned the hard way. Another ‘big’ European team we haven’t beaten. A good opportunity spurned but we’re still unbeaten in 18. Three draws on the spin – four in the last five – is something of a concern. Confidence, you sense, is vital for this squad to thrive and a return to winning ways is desperately needed.
So we finish second in the group. Yes, I know Ludogorets could spring a surprise but they haven’t so far in terms of results, so why expect one now. Or even hope for one. That assumes we win in Basle. Second place seems most likely and the only sides who we would really fancy our chances against are in Group B – Napoli, Besiktas or Benfica – whilst familiar names lie in wait elsewhere.
Still, if we’re going to think positively about the mess we’ve made, at least Bayern Munich can’t knock us out in the Round of Sixteen. Every cloud, etc.