Honours even between Arsenal and PSG as 2-2 draw sees Champions League group go to the wire
21:46 23 November 2016
A hard fought 2-2 draw in the Champions League between Arsenal and PSG at The Emirates tonight ensured the battle for top spot would go to the wire next month in Basel.
After Edinson Cavani finished off a cross from Blaise Matuidi to put the visitors 1-0 up, the Arsene Wenger’s men equalised against the run of play right on half time with an Olivier Giroud penalty – following a disputed challenge on Alexis Sanchez by Grzegorz Krychowiak.
With the momentum shifting in the second half an own goal from the previously impressive Marco Verratti saw Arsenal edge ahead 2-1 – only for an Alex Iwobi own goal after a Lucas Moura cross pulled it back to 2-2.
The first game between these two teams from European capitals was played out in sweltering temperatures in Paris back in September. The late November North London weather may have been somewhat chillier – but the heat was most certainly on both sides as they viewed for first place in Group A.
David Opsina was recalled in place of Petr Cech although it could be argued after his heroics – most notably against Edinson Cavani in the cauldron of the Par de Princes – that this move certainly did not weaken the home side.
With the Gunners three points off top spot in the Premier League, unbeaten in 17 and joint first with Paris in their group, Wenger’s men are in a healthy position, despite the fact the month of November normally heralds a downturn in fortune.
The fact that Unai Emery’s Parisians have failed to register a clean sheet in their last nine games against English sides, had only won once in eight matches on English soil and had not beaten the Gunners in three games spread over two decades meant the odds were very much on a home victory.
However, that would be to forget the French team’s dominance on that baking hot evening back in September, where only Ospina’s exceptional performance and Alexis Sanchez’s late equaliser help achieve parity with the impressive French reigning champions.
Nor should it have been forgotten their high energy pressing and workrate pinned Wenger’s men back, leaving them toothless in the attacking third. Or the fact that the impressive but hugely underrated Marco Verratti was a key man – and would be again tonight in terms of prompting his teammates forward.
It was no surprise Olivier Giroud started after three goals from the substitutes bench, while Alex Iwobi replaced Mohamed Elneny, and Kieran Gibbs preferred instead of Nacho Monreal at left back – as Wenger chased a decisive victory.
With Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin again ruled out, Carl Jenkinson replaced the Spanish U21 international, while Aaron Ramsey filled the former Malaga creative’s spot.
Emery’s men were without Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore thus missing creative input, while Serge Aurier was otherwise unavailable due to UK customs denying him a visa to enter the country after an earlier conviction for assaulting a police officer.
The opening stages were scrappy and shapeless with both sides fighting for possession and control. The Frenchman were unlucky not to score on 14 minutes when they had an effort cleared off the line by an alert Gibbs, after Cavani’s header was deflected by Thiago Silva on its way to the goal line.
It was a warning Arsenal failed to heed as another Thiago – this time the former Barcelona, Athletico Madrid and Inter Milan Motta – found himself in space on the left flank before feeding the ball to Blaise Matuidi. The tough tackling former St Etienne midfielder powered into the box, crossing for Cavani to slide the ball into the net, to make it 1-0 to PSG on 18 minutes.
The joy among the players, Emery’s bench and the 3,000 vociferous travelling fans indicated just how important the Uruguayan’s strike was.
Yet in truth it was little more than PSG deserved as Arsenal simply couldn’t offer a cohesive response to their opponents effervescent pressing.
As the first half progressed so frustration with Arsenal’s performance rose – on and off the pitch, with Wenger cutting a concerned figure at the edge of his technical area, as an increasingly agitated crowd let him know their displeasure.
However, with seconds remaining of the first half, Sanchez tussled with Krychowiak in the box. As they tangled it appeared his legs were swiped from under him and down he went. Yet the feeling was he may have conned the penalty – it certainly is no surprise there are at least six words to describe ‘cunning’ in Spanish.
It’s unclear whether the German referee Felix Brych had a word whispered in his ear but his initial reaction was not to award a penalty. Yet a split second later he decisively changed his mind.
As players on both sides argued about the penalty, Cavani appeared to lash out at Ramsey. No action was taken and Giroud calmly ran up to send Areola the wrong way with a low left foot shot to make the score 1-1.
Referee Brych blew to end the half seconds later as yet again Arsenal claimed a late equaliser against PSG. The difference between tonight and September was that there was still 45 minutes to play.
The second half started with the crowd urging on the home team from the whistle. It’s amazing how many times a goal just before half time against the run of play completely changes momentum.
And so it was the case as Arsenal strode forward with a renewed confidence in their play.
On the hour mark an increasingly influential Jenkinson played the ball into the box from the right. The ball somehow fell to Ramsey. His shot was poor but to PSG’s horror Marquinhos’ attempted clearance ricocheted off Verratti’s shins and flew into the net to make it 2-1.
It may have been harsh on the skilful Italian and his teammates – yet Arsenal’s persistence and refusal to give in over both games deserved such a reward.
The question was whether PSG could respond the way Arsenal did in such circumstances. As Alexis played in a tantalising ball that narrowly evaded an onrushing Ramsey with 17 minutes left the initial answer was no, as the Gunners could have easily scored another goal.
Yet with Hatem Ben Arfa coming on for Krychowiak on 67 minutes, it prompted his team to push further forward. The talented but mercurial attacking midfielder fed Maxwell on the left, whose instant touch and deep cross into the box saw Gibbs send the ball behind for a corner.
From the corner that Ben Arfa took, a left footed inswinger, the ball evaded Jenkinson – who in truth was not in a good position or shape to defend his space correctly – and fell to Lucas with no-one near him. The 24-year-old former Sao Paolo wideman then headed towards goal.
On its way to goal the ball received the slightest flick from Iwobi – with the glance being strong enough to wrong-foot Opsina on the line and enter the net to make it 2-2 with 13 minutes remaining.
The majority of the team raced to where the travelling support was massed in utter celebration. It was Arsenal’s turn to feel utterly dejected.
For poor Iwobi it was his last action of the night as Wenger immediately replaced him with Granit Xhaka.
Cavani then found himself racing towards Ospina’s goal. But such is the fragile psychology of the forward when faced with his nemesis who appeared in the form of the onrushing Columbian – he meekly lifted the ball into the keeper’s arms in a poor attempt to lob and 2-2 it remained.
On 82 minutes Lucas fired a powerful and accurate cross into the box, only for Cavani to incredibly head wide.
As the clock ticked down it became clear that both team’s sweat-laden efforts against each other would see the battle for first place in this group go down to the wire.
It was the least both teams deserved – despite the fact PSG over the course of 180 minutes between these two sides have been far more the impressive team of footballers.
But despite Wenger’s gloomy assertion afterwards that his men have a 90 per cent chance of finishing second in Group A the permutations for who Arsenal might play in February’s Round of 16 can wait for two more weeks.
Because with football – and the topsy turvy nature of the battle between these two teams for top spot – nothing is certain.
Ospina, Gibbs, Koscielny, Sanchez, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud, Iwobi (Xhaka), Mustafi, Jenkinson (Oxlade-Chamberlain), Coquelin (Walcott)
Areola, Silva, Krychowiak (Ben Arfa), Marquinhos, Verratti, Lucas, Motta, Cavani, Meunier, Matuidi, Maxwell
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)