Ospina justifies Wenger selection after Arsenal escape PSG battering with valuable point
Paris SG 1 Arsenal 1
Arsene Wenger got some decisions wrong last night in Paris, but the most surprising one proved to be his best. Shock selection David Ospina produced a heroic performance in goal, making the saves that kept Arsenal in the game they somehow drew 1-1.
Arsenal were outplayed by Paris Saint-Germain for the whole game at the Parc des Princes, as Wenger left Olivier Giroud and Granit Xhaka on the bench. They should have lost by a distance, after Edinson Cavani put PSG ahead in the first minute. But Ospina kept the score at 1-0, repeatedly denying Cavani another goal. Alexis Sanchez equalised with Arsenal's first real chance, and suddenly the Gunners' start to their Champions League campaign looked far more respectable. An away draw in their hardest game is a good result. Even if they had an anxious time along the way.
All of Wenger's plans, and much of his hopes for an easier European season, dissolved after just 43 seconds. That was how long it took for PSG to take the lead, a desperately important goal for a team still searching for confidence and the trust of its fans.
Arsenal had to be switched on from the start but they were still dozing as PSG won the ball early and played it out to the right. Unai Emery wants his full-backs pushed up aggressively, and Serge Aurier bounded forward in possession. Nacho Monreal did not switch on in time to stop the cross. Shkodran Mustafi, rooted at the front post, stood and watched as Cavani got the run on him and glanced his header into the net.
That was the goal that PSG needed and it transformed the atmosphere in the ground. These players are still deciding what they make of Emery but they were playing for him here. They put together one move that, had it not been for Laurent Koscielny's tackle on Adrien Rabiot, would surely have been goal of the season, featuring back-heels from Angel di Maria and Rabiot.
This was Arsenal's chance to assert themselves on Group A but they spent too much of the first-half just clinging on. Even when Francis Coquelin got stuck into the midfield battle, Arsenal were still up against a PSG side with the quality to hurt them every time they went forward.
Cavani looked buoyed by his early goal, but not buoyed enough to score another before the break. He took advantage of confusion between Koscielny and Ospina, touching the ball past the Colombian goalkeeper, but lost his balance and shot wide. Then, just before the interval, he ran on to Di Maria's pass but lost his footing while trying to untangle his legs. Cavani is not perfect but he is at least a centre-forward. Arsenal, with just Alexis Sanchez up front, certainly looked like they would have taken him.
Despite everything, Wenger made no changes at the interval. His starting XI had to try to solve the same problems all over again. But Rabiot, Marco Verratti and Gerzegorz Krychowiak were still too strong for Cazorla and Coquelin in midfield. Di Maria and Cavani were still too fast on the break.
PSG might have had a penalty when Di Maria went down in the vicinity of Mustafi in the box, but the hosts were more than happy to sit and wait, controlling the tempo of the game and looking under little threat from Arsenal's blunt front-line. It took 17 minutes of the second-half for Wenger to finally bring on Giroud, for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, after another underwhelming hour from the young midfielder.
Giroud gave Arsenal a focal point, but could not fix their absent midfield. Ospina had to save from Aurier and Cavani before Wenger finally brought on Xhaka, another man who must have wondered why he did not start. Then Ospina saved again, his leaping reflex denying Di Maria on the volley.
That should have been 6-0, but it was not. And within a few minutes PSG paid for their profligacy as Arsenal scored an equaliser no-one saw coming. Ozil found Alex Iwobi, whose shot was parried by Alphone Areola, his first real save of the game. The ball fell to Sanchez who gleefully slapped the ball into the net. He was the hero, but not as much as Ospina, who bravely denied Cavani again, out at his feet.
PSG continued to push for a winner, but their frustration boiled over as Verratti and Giroud clashed off the ball in added time. Both men received their second bookings and both were sent off. An ugly end to a messy match, but Arsenal will certainly be less upset. (© Independent News Service, London)