Arsène Wenger got away with one in Paris on Tuesday night.
That’s a fair and accurate assessment of the state of things, I think you’ll agree? Had it not been for the inability of PSG’s Edison Cavani to put any one of the several chances created for him beyond the opening minute of our opening match of this year’s Champions League, I feel certain there would have murders.
As it was, Alexis Sanchez showed the Uruguyan how it was done with an unerring finish in the 78th minute to deny our hosts the three points. That our goal came as a rebound from the first save PSG’s anatomically named goalkeeper had to make was quite a familiar sight, wasn’t it? It was just nice that the shoe was on the other foot for a change.
In a way, it’s hard to know where to begin with this match. I was left aghast for all but the last half an hour of the game as once again, Arsenal huffed and they puffed and got nowhere. In truth, I guess the aggravation began as our team news came down the pipe. If Saturday was all about being wrapped, once more, in the loving embrace of the Gooner family, then last night was a totally different experience.
We must always remember that Arsène has more information at his disposal than we could dream of, that he sees the players train every single day. However, you don’t need to see the players in training every day to know that the Ox’s form is in the toilet, that you are hamstringing yourself by bringing in the number two goalkeeper, that starting a midfield of Coquelin and Cazorla against a technical, quick team like PSG was asking for trouble and that’s without even mentioning Alexis up top. Again.
As it happened, we were grateful to David Ospina last night, who repaid his manager’s faith with a display that kept us in it long enough for Alexis to tie things up. It goes without saying that he had an excellent game and put in exactly the sort of performance we all wanted to see – aside from that dodgy kick out, which then resulted in him having to make another great save. I should say that I think Ospina has long since proved himself a largely excellent shot stopper, it’s just everything else that worries me. Starting him in what should be our toughest assignment in the group stages just seems counter productive. Particularly behind a centre-back partnership just one game old, but hey, it worked so credit to Arsène for that.
At the other end of the pitch, the decision to keep Olivier Giroud on the bench again seemed oddly self defeating. Two games in a row, the man who – for all his faults – is our only proven centre forward has sat on the bench and watched Arsenal struggle to generate any real attacking momentum. With the midfield unable to get into the game and Alexis providing little in the way of genuine centre forward play, there was nowhere for our ball to go.
As soon as Giroud came on, giving us that focal point, things looked better. He was involved almost immediately as we started producing some actual football. Of course, Giroud being Giroud, he then got himself needlessly booked for dissent and then was rather unlucky to pick up a second yellow card in the last minute. Any sympathy I might feel for him, though, is mitigated by the pointlessness of his first booking and the fact that this exact same thing happened less than a year ago. Idiot.
Maybe it’s this continued petulance, maybe it’s the feeling that Arsenal need to evolve their style a little. Whatever it is, it does seem as though Arsène is now actively seeking out a centre forward who is not Olivier Giroud, it can’t be too long before Theo Walcott gets another go up there. The problem is, as we have seen over the last couple of games, nobody can do what Giroud does as well as he does it. If the manager seems ready to leave Giroud behind, then it doesn’t seem that the team are just yet.
Clearly, that could change if Lucas integrates into the team. I felt a bit sorry for him last night, all dressed up but nowhere to go…
— Lucas Pérez (@LP10oficial) September 13, 2016
But his time will surely come, he’ll need to make the most of it.
Others waiting for their time to come this season, at least far as starting games regularly go, are Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. Me, you, everyone – perhaps even the guys themselves – were shocked to see SantFrancis starting another game, just three days after Southampton. More to the point, we have a central midfielder in Xhaka who doesn’t just look good, but genuinely excellent, and we leave him on the bench. Is it coincidence that we looked so much better with him on the pitch? Or was this all part of Arsène Wenger’s tactical masterplan? A footballing rope a dope to rival Muhammad Ali’s famous victory over Joe Frazier? A football match, after all, lasts 90 minutes not 60. Us fans, I suppose, also need to remember that sometimes. The prevalence of Twitter means that every football match is judged in “the dictatorship of the now”, as Arsène once memorably put it.
That said, the idea of last night’s showing being part of a grand scheme… it seems unlikely, doesn’t it? I mean, the masterplan would have had to factor in the fact that Cavani, last night, couldn’t have finished his dinner. We got lucky, that is – quite literally – the only conclusion you can come to. However, whatever Arsène’s motives for the changes he made last night, we came away from the Parc des Princes with a point. It could have been even better, if only Alex Iwobi could have finished with some conviction late on.
When all is said and done, we have come back from a tough assignment unbeaten and in the knowledge that winning all our home games gives us an excellent chance of avoiding Barcelona/Bayern Munich in the next round.
You can’t say fairer than that, can you?