PSG in the driving seat for top spot as Arsenal fail to step up
A thrilling game at the Emirates ended in a share of the spoils
Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti scores an own goal during their Champions League clash with Arsenal. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Arsenal 2 Paris Saint-Germain 2
Arsène Wenger had hoped his players would deliver a positive statement of intent here but in the end all he took from this collision with Paris Saint-Germain was a familiar sense of dread as to what now awaits in the new year. Arsenal, off the pace for long periods, have passed up an opportunity to claim this section and face a final group match at Basel next month, handing the initiative to the French club.
A victory for PSG against the section’s whipping boys, Ludogorets, in that final round of fixtures will claim top spot and leave Arsenal fretting at what might await. The last 16 has proved their downfall in each of the past six seasons and while they may avoid Bayern Munich, the spectre of a tie against Barcelona, Juventus or Atlético Madrid, will haunt them until the draw. The French side, in truth, were the better side in both draws between these clubs. Perhaps there can be no complaints. But it still seemed like a waste.
The recent tail-off in Arsenal’s form had hardly smacked of crisis – they still came into this match unbeaten since the season’s opening weekend – even if a home draw with Tottenham had seemed like an opportunity missed and Saturday’s draw at Manchester United, by Wenger’s own admission, had been decidedly fortunate.
The hope had been that a game branded as “a cup final” by the manager would get the locals’ juices flowing, shrugging them out of their lull. But in the context of that build-up, their side’s inability to wrest early control of the game seemed all the more alarming. PSG have flourished on their previous two visits to London, across the capital city at Chelsea. They began here as if very much at home and, in truth, were infuriated not to depart at the interval well ahead.
Their authority had effectively gone unchallenged until the seconds before half-time. The French club have such a physically imposing presence along their spine, but it is the classy Marco Verratti and bustling Blaise Matuidi who can set them apart. Their midfield was the slicker from the outset. Thomas Meunier glided forward eagerly to compensate for the absence of Serge Aurier – the Ivorian had been denied French citizenship five years ago, and failed to attain a visa to enter this country while he waits on an appeal against a two-month jail sentence for assaulting a police officer – with the right-back setting the tone with an early cross which Edinson Cavani could only guide out for a throw-in.
The miss prompted immediate flashbacks to the Uruguayan’s profligacy in the game in Paris back in September, but he would soon find his range. With Arsenal far too becalmed, the French side seized the initiative. Thiago Silva had already seen an attempt, prodded from among a muddle of bodies, hacked from the goal-line by Kieran Gibbs when Thiago Motta gathered possession and threaded a fine pass between Carl Jenkinson and Shkodran Mustafi for Matuidi to collect. His centre was drilled across goal for Cavani to convert.
That should have been the prelude to more reward, so dominant were PSG. Yet, just as at Parc des Princes, they permitted Arsenal an unlikely route back to parity. Grzegorz Krychowiak was guilty for dawdling just outside the area with Olivier Giroud, on only his second start of term, claiming possession.
In the confusion that followed, Mesut Özil’s clever reverse pass found Alexis Sánchez who sensing the panicked Krychowiak sliding in, stretched out his back leg seeking contact and with a touch to his right foot, eagerly went to ground.
The award of the penalty prompted a spat between Cavani and Aaron Ramsey, the striker touching his opponent unwisely on the chest, with the Welshman clutching his jaw, but no caution from the overworked German official. Giroud duly converted the spot-kick with Arsenal’s first shot of note, with the squabbling spilling into the tunnel seconds later.
That incident injected some snarl into a contest which reopened in a frenzy of attacking intent. Lucas Moura, having been felled by Laurent Koscielny, curled a free-kick from distance on to the crossbar and Cavani was incensed yet again by the official, having tumbled in the box, optimistically it appeared, under Koscielny’s challenge. Yet that frustration was born of his side suddenly finding themselves in deficit, their initial dominance having long since been overhauled.
Arsenal had forced them back with a series of forays forward before Jenkinson’s cross was scuffed goalwards by Ramsey. The attempt was only vaguely threatening, but PSG had lost their composure. Marquinhos duly rammed his clearance into an on-rushing Verratti, off balance and facing his own goal, with the ball scuttling beyond Alphonse Areola and into the corner of the net.
It was the first own goal the French club had ever shipped in the competition but with so much disorganisation prevalent in both penalty areas, it never felt like the decisive moment. As if to prove as much, Jenkinson permitted Lucas far too much space beyond the far post to meet the substitute Hatem Ben Arfa’s corner 12 minutes from time, with the Brazilian’s header flicking off Alex Iwobi and beyond David Ospina.
Cavani should have scored twice in the time that remained and should really have emerged from two meetings with Arsenal with a pair of hat-tricks to his name. Even so, it was PSG who departed satisfied. Leadership of Group A is theirs, and it should remain so.