PARIS — Three points from the Parc des Princes as PSG and Arsenal settled for a 1-1 draw in which two players were sent off.
1. Arsenal get lucky in Paris
In theory a draw against PSG might be regarded as a positive result but for Arsenal, Tuesday’s 1-1 draw to kick off their Champions League campaign represents the third season in a row in which they have dropped points in their opening group game.
This was theoretically their toughest game of the group but it was against a PSG team who had started the domestic season in uneven form, collecting one point from their last two league games in which they would expect to win with relative ease. But frankly, Arsenal got lucky. PSG controlled much of the game, were profligate throughout and should have capitalised on their very early goal. Indeed, they probably should have been three or four ahead by the time Arsenal found their equaliser.
PSG took the lead after just 45 seconds, as Serge Aurier — an Arsenal target for so long — drove down the right and whipped over a perfect cross that was headed home by Edinson Cavani, completely free just outside the six yard box and only marginally onside, if at all. Oddly, there were two balls on the pitch for around 15 seconds before Cavani headed home, the second having been tossed on by a fan after an early throw-in, but the laws of the game state the match should only be stopped if it interferes with play.
The home side were the better team for the rest of the half and should have doubled their lead 10 minutes before the break. Cavani took advantage of some defensive dithering and nicked the ball around Ospina but skewed his shot wide of the almost completely open goal. He lay on the turf, still, face in the grass, contemplating the cruelty of existence.
Cavani should have scored again a few minutes later: a ball dinked over the top found him in acres of space behind the defence and all he needed to do was control the ball on his chest and hit the target: he managed the first part, only to fall over as if he’d been shoved in the stomach.
PSG continued to have the better of the play after the break, too, but they were pegged back with around 13 minutes to go. Mesut Ozil squared the ball to Alex Iwobi in the area and his shot was well saved but the rebound fell to Alexis Sanchez, who fired it into the bottom corner.
Both sides pressed for a winner but neither could grab it. In stoppage time, Olivier Giroud and Marco Verratti were sent off for an off the ball incident, both men receiving second yellow cards. That Giroud had only come on as a second-half substitute was a further point of frustration.
2. Wenger’s selections confound fans again
Not even a point away from home or a good performance by David Ospina necessarily defends Arsene Wenger’s team selection. Some of his choices were not entirely illogical, in as much as each individual decision can be defended.
Theo Walcott had a knee injury so his promising start to the season was halted, while Giroud presumably still isn’t quite fit enough to start a game this importanct. And yet, while some of his choices were imposed on him the decision to start David Ospina ahead of Petr Cech looked even more curious. When your team is already disrupted by matters beyond your control, why choose to disrupt it further?
Ospina is a fine goalkeeper and individually didn’t do a great deal wrong: he had little chance to prevent Cavani’s goal and actually produced a couple of terrific saves in the second half to deny Cavani and Angel di Maria. And yet his selection was a needless, self-imposed complication.
Wenger stressed that he has two “world class” goalkeepers in Ospina and Cech, but in that case why choose this game to select the Colombian after going with Cech for the first four league games? He already has a new element to integrate into his defence, Shkodran Mustafi, and a delicate balance to strike at the best of times. Perhaps that uncertainty was the reason for the colossal hole opening up in Arsenal’s defence after 45 seconds, or further ones appearing as the game progressed.
In his pre-match press conference, Wenger stressed the importance of getting off to a good start. In five of Arsenal’s last six Champions League campaigns, they have finished second in their group and thus ensured their second round opponent is more difficult than it possibly needed to be. Last season they finished behind Bayern Munich, which is of course forgivable, but not necessarily because the Bavarians outplayed them; if anything, it was because Arsenal lost their first two group games to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos respectively.
“Consistency” was the word he used this week. It was also a concept he then promptly failed to apply himself.
3. Cavani scores but wastes PSG’s best chances
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s personality tends to be pretty dominant no matter which club he plays for. He is the main man, he shall play where he likes and woe betide anyone who suggests otherwise. After his departure, therefore, there is a place in the PSG team begging to be filled and after (by their standards) a relatively reticent transfer window, the most obvious candidate was Cavani.
Relegated to the wing by Ibrahimovic’s supremacy for much of his time in Paris, this was perhaps his time, his chance to show the sort of form that made him one of the world’s most feared strikers when he was at Napoli. And yet he looks a shadow of his former self, an uncertain and stumbling presence who reminds you a little of Fernando Torres at the nadir of his spell at Chelsea.
Bereft of confidence, his touch having departed to places unknown, it was fairly sad to watch for much of the game. If PSG had been able to field a more confident striker — ideally tall, high opinion of himself, Swedish perhaps — then the game would have been over by half-time. One shudders to think what a peak Cavani (the 2012 version?) would have done to an Arsenal defence as brittle as it appeared on Tuesday.
He did score but that either tells you more about Arsenal or that inside the first minute, he hadn’t the time to think and make himself so cripplingly nervous.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.