Late Alexis Sanchez goal gives Arsenal share of the spoils against PSG in the Champions League
- Credit: Archant
An Arsenal side outplayed for most of the game by the impressive movement of Paris Saint Germain snatched a satisfying point with a late Alexis Sanchez equaliser here at the Parc de Princes on a sultry evening in the French capital.
The Gunners gained their first Champions League point after falling behind to the shock of a 42 second Edinson Cavani goal, after which the visitors were pinned back for long periods of the game.
And despite substitute Olivier Giroud being sent off late on after a tussle with the previously influential Marco Verratti Arsene Wenger’s men held on.
The travellers, despite being under the cosh for most of the game in an intimidatingly loud stadium will be overjoyed with the result if not the performance – and should also be thanking David Ospina for his heroics in thwarting Cavani time after time following his strike.
Ospina replaced Petr Cech in goal, with Alex Iwobi and Alexis Sanchez also starting, with Theo Walcott knee injury ruling him out, and new signing Luca Perez dropping to the bench.
Francis Coquelin kept his place ahead of Granit Xhaka as centre half and captain Laurent Koscielny recovered from the facial injury he picked up in the closing seconds against Southampton.
Despite the pessimism in the French press it was a strong Paris line-up facing the travelling Gunners with pivotal midfielder Marco Verratti looking to eclipse Arsenal’s playmaker Mesut Ozil, £30 million signing from Roma, the forward Marquinhos attempting to test fellow £30m man Shkodran Mustafi in the North Londoner’s defence.
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The £55m Uruguayan dangerman Edinson Cavani was also looking to prove himself in his own right after being overshadowed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the past three seasons – although his strike rate as today’s L’Equipe newspaper helpfully pointed out wasn’t nearly as good as Olivier Giroud’s – with both light years behind the charismatic Swede’s 113 in 122 games.
Their headline predicted Cavani would face ‘challenges’ of his own this evening – but if he read the piece it can only have fired him up, as Arsenal would find out to their cost – even if the paper’s correspondent would ultimately be proved correct.
Former Manchester United man Angel Di Maria also started for the team from the French capital backed by Qatari billions – along with one-time Arsenal target Blaise Matuidi.
The atmosphere crackled at the start of this Champions League Group A game between two ‘nearly’ teams of the competition – although for Arsenal to get near to the final would be a bonus this season given their poor form in the knockout stages since reaching the final in 2006 and the semi-finals in 2008.
As temperatures lingered in the 30s at kick-off as Paris endured or enjoyed – depending on your viewpoint - its own heatwave today. Would the performances on the pitch match the hot stuff off it?
We were to find out only a matter of moments after the familiar strains taken from Handel’s Zadok the Priest rang out.
The Italian Verratti – who this week professed his love of football was such he’d happily have a kick-about with his friends when he had to give up the professional game - released Ivorian right back Serge Aurier down Arsenal’s left flank.
The former Toulouse man dashed past Nacho Monreal and curled in a near post cross. Cavani met it perfectly and with pace that Opsina had no chance to make it 1-0.
The fact only 42 seconds had elapsed was as much testament to PSG’s high-tempo start as it was Arsenal being caught cold – though questions have to be asked of the defensive pairing of Koscielny and Mustafi not being tighter as a unit on the onrushing forward.
As the huge ultra banner read in the packed stands before kick off: ‘It’s starting now.’ It certainly was for Wenger as memories of another first game loss were already made manifest.
PSG continued to attack lifted by their great start and buoyed by the atmosphere which was ear-splitting in the balmy Parisian evening. So much so that the Gunners could barely escape their own half for the first 15 minutes
Paris boss Unai Emery – who won the Europa League three times with Seville before swapping the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan for the far more evocative Parc de Princes after Laurent Blanc was sacked for failing to deliver the Champions League – could barely contain his delight at such a turbo-charged beginning.
The North Londoner’s keeper, the Columbian Ospina must have been listening to the conversation this week about ‘sweeper keepers’ – he certainly let it get to his head as he rushed out to nut the ball away from the clutches of Cavani. His interception showed impeccable timing
After the initial onslaught the game settled down and Wenger’s men started to gain a modicum of possession, even vaguely threatening Alphonse Areola’s goal with a succession of looping high balls by Bellerin – ultimately met by Mustafi’s header which lacked conviction and direction.
As the half wore on Di Maria made intelligent runs between the lines to exploit the space and time he found in no mans land. The Gunners backline didn’t know whether to stick or twist, as the impressive Verratti further back pulled prompted numerous forays. .
The pairs sparkling interchanges should have been rewarded on 33 minutes. Cavani again pounced on hesitancy at the heart of the Gunners defence, moving the ball round the despairing trio of Ospina, Koscielny and Mustafi on the edge of the area.
With the goal at his mercy, albeit from an angle he proceeded to plant his shot wide of the empty goal, to the relief of the noisy 1,800 travelling Arsenal fans, and their whole team. Maybe L’Equipe was right in stating his conversion rate needed work.
He frustrated again on 41 minutes when he pivoted in the box attempting a volley, but the momentum of his athleticism drew him away from the ball, and his missed with his effort.
For Wenger’s men it was another let-off – although again questions should have been raised about the lack of defensive pillars anywhere near him.
And as they trooped in losing 1-0 at half time perhaps that was the problem – the fact the Arsenal backline resembled pillars for most of the first half.
Whatever Wenger said to his players in the dressing room gave them a slight fillip as they started the second half on the front foot. However, that initial vigour faded as the game fell into a misshapen spell enliven only by sporadic breaks by both sides which came to nothing.
Maybe it was the heat. as temperatures remained resolutely in the high 20s deep into the second half – presumably taking of all Monchengladbach’s longed-for dry and hot weather.
Cavani again proved his doubters correct when Ospina slid out to smother his shot on 67 minutes, much to the frustration of the home support.
Wenger had brought on Giroud for the tiring Oxlade-Chamberlain minutes earlier but the big Frenchman struggled to get into the game.
As the heat sapped exhausted legs Granit Xhaka came on for Coquelin with 20 minutes remaining. Arsenal’s French midfielder work hard as he always does, but in truth he was eclipsed by PSG’s intelligent movement, effective use of the ball and genuine power.
Verratti and Matuidi excelled in overpowering the visitors, allied with fast, incisive inroads down the flanks by full back Aurier and other willing runners, who always looked to supplement his team’s attack even if his final ball still needs work.
It was PSG in the ascendancy as Di Maria then had a powerful shot palmed over the bar by the busy Ospina.
Yet with just 13 minutes left Iwobi found himself in space six yards out. He fired a low shot at Areloa who palmed it back into the danger area. A calm Sanchez made no mistake as he powered the ball into the net to make it 1-1.
Joyous scenes followed as he and his relieved teammates celebrated wildly – as did the 1,800 official Arsenal fans, along with it has to be said a significant number of Gooners dotted around the ground in home areas.
Moments later Iwobi tried his luck by curling a right footed shot towards Areola’s goal which he pushed away. No it was Arsenal’s turn to be the dominant side – much to the shock of the PSG team and fans.
However Cavani again spurned a chance as Ospina – again showing his skills as a sweeper – came rushing out, just managing to push the ball from the forward’s feet.
Giroud and Verratti were then sent off for their late tussle but the final whistle went moments after a late PSG header flashed past the far post after a corner by Di Maria and Arsenal held on for the draw – much as they did 22 years ago here in a 1-1 stalemate in the European Cup Winners Cup that ultimately saw them lift the trophy.
Tonight’s draw may not have as much meaning, but the point Wenger’s men may still be crucial when it comes to potentially topping the group – and an easier draw in the knock-out stages.
But that is all in the future. Tonight’s match was all about an outplayed Arsenal team finally showing its battling qualities in a hostile environment and coming away with a point which was not deserved – not that anyone from North London cares.
Areola, Thiago Silva, Krychowiak (Pastore), Marquinhos, Verratti, Cavani, Di Maria, Matuidi, Maxwell, Aurier, Rabiot (Motta).
Opsina, Koscielny, Sanchez, Ozil (Elneny), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Giroud), Iwobi, Monreal, Cazorla, Mustafi, Bellerin, Coquelin (Xhaka).
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary).