Match Preview: PSG v Arsenal; The Setup
Arsenal’s initial match of the Champions League campaign in Paris on Tuesday carries both peril and potential.
On paper, it’s the toughest of the Gunners’ group stage encounters. The runaway Ligue 1 champions are the top seed and recent four-time quarterfinalists in this competition. Arsenal also have a habit of starting the Champions League slowly, if not stupidly, losing the last two openers.
You wouldn’t fancy a reversal of that trend against one of Europe’s free-spending clubs. But other factors may weigh in Arsenal’s favor this time.
The biggest advantage is disarray at PSG. The club cashiered Laurent Blanc at the end of last season and hired Unai Emery from Seville, where he won an unprecedented three consecutive Europa League titles. The two managers’ philosophies differ, and a roster largely of Blanc’s making hasn’t easily adapted.
The Parisians also lost their most potent offensive threat, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Without their Swedish talisman, PSG have so far lacked a player capable of rescuing them from pedestrian displays. They’ve labored in three of four Ligue 1 matches, including Friday’s home draw with Saint-Etienne.
Part of those struggles can be attributed to defensive injuries. Team captain Thiago Silva has been out; Maxwell, Serge Aurier, and Layvin Kurzawa have also missed time. With the exits of David Luiz and Gregory Van Der Wiel, PSG had only one experienced defender, Marquinos, by the end of the Saint-Etienne match.
Will Arsenal’s offensive threat be enough to capitalize? In eight halves of league play, the Gunners seemed fluid in one, the first half at Watford. They mustered just one non-penalty shot on target in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Southampton. That came from center back Laurent Koscielny, a bicycle-kick equalizer.
In truth, though, manager Arsène Wenger hasn’t yet fielded his first-choice attacking unit. Center forward Olivier Giroud has only appeared as a substitute, playmaker Mesut Özil had limited action in the season’s first two matches, and Alexis played just a half-hour on Saturday.
If Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are also candidates for the first XI, we’d have to say the Gunners haven’t deployed their firepower in full.
Whether Wenger decides to open up in Paris is an intriguing question. When Arsenal have had poor results in Europe, the cause has most often been unwise aggression. The Gunners have been undone by continentals’ tactical savvy and efficient finishing. So there’s a case for a more circumspect approach here.
That would include enhanced positional awareness and flow in the midfield. PSG’s biggest strength, developed under Blanc, is in the center of the park. Marco Veratti, Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta, and Adrien Rabiot are all smooth conductors of play. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Wenger to choose Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny as a partnership to try to counter PSG there.
Their relative freshness—and that of their teammates farther forward–gives the manager flexibility he’s rarely enjoyed. As he remarked in his pre-match press conference, “I haven’t decided. The players don’t know the team.”
How he clarifies his thinking will be telling.
Nacho Monreal against Lucas Moura. What dynamism PSG have generated thus far has come from the Brazilian winger. He’s a crafty presence, shown by the average of 4.1 dribbles he’s attempted every 90 minutes he’s played. Monreal held up well as Southampton tried to isolate him. He’ll need a similar performance and more support against Lucas.
Where to Worry
Arsenal’s midfield left too many gaps against Southampton, especially in the first 20 minutes. The Gunners can’t allow their hosts’ slick passers time to find their forwards, even if the likes of Edison Cavani and Angel Di María have been less than efficient in front of goal.
Midfield skill will be on display, but the sides’ strengths in this area will likely cancel each other out. Loose defending permits a goal each. Arsenal emerges with a draw in its toughest group match.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman has an opportunity to silence some of his homeland critics. He’ll face a PSG backline unsettled by injury and unused to his brand of physical play.
PSG. Angel Di María. The Argentine is PSG’s creative mind. He’s capable of magical moments off the dribble, with the pass, and on free kicks.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Mertesacker (knee), Gabriel (match fitness), Jenkinson (knee), Welbeck (knee), Debouchy (calf), Ramsey (match fitness)
PSG: Aurier (ankle), Pastore (calf), Kurzawa (thigh), Maxwell (back)
Arsenal: Cech – Bellerin Mustafi Koscielny Monreal – Xhaka Elneny – Walcott Özil Alexis – Giroud
PSG: Trapp – Meunier Marquinos Thiago Silva Kimpembe – Thiago Motta Matuidi Veratti – Di María Cavani Lucas
Referee: Victor Kassai (HUN)
Assistant referees: G Ring, V Tòth
Additional assistant referees: Z Szabó, T Bognar
Fourth official: P Berettyán
UK: BT Sport, 1945 GMT
US: Fox Sports 2, Fox Soccer2Go, 2:45 PM EDT
PSG 1 – 1 Arsenal
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy UEFA.com)
We’re on our way back. Mentally we’re ready, but physically we’re not quite there yet. Paris have also had players missing, players who have come back late [after summer tournaments]. They’ve had the same problems as us.
We’ll play our own game and look to get forward. PSG are very strong in midfield, and we’ll try to stop them feeding their forwards.
PSG are a good test for us – a club that’s above everyone else in France.
Match Facts (Courtesy Opta via FourFourTwo StatsZone)
- Paris SG and Arsenal’s only previous encounter was in the 1993/94 Cup Winners Cup semi-finals. The Gunners won 2-1 on aggregate, including a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes.
- Paris SG have lost only one of their last 39 home games in European competition (W25 D13), and that was against Barcelona in April 2015 (1-3).
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their 12 away games against French clubs in European competition (W8 D4), including winning their last seven.
- However, only once (in seven games) has an English club beaten Paris SG at the Parc des Princes in European competition. It was José Mourinho’s Chelsea in September 2004 (3-0).
- This is Paris SG’s fifth consecutive Champions League campaign and ninth in total. Only Lyon (14) have more appearances in the competition among French clubs.
- Paris SG have been knocked out in the quarterfinals in each of the last four seasons. Their best performance to date is a semi-final in 1994/95 when they were eliminated by AC Milan.
- Since their return to the Champions League in 2012/13, Paris SG have won 17 of their 24 group games (D3 L4).
- Last season, Paris SG conceded only one goal in their six Champions League group games.
- Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for the 19th consecutive season, only Real Madrid (20) can boast a longer current streak.
- Arsenal have made it past the group stages in the last 13 seasons but have been knocked out at the last 16 stage in the last six campaigns. Their solitary Champions League final ended in defeat against Barcelona in 2006.
- None of Arsenal’s last 12 Champions League games has ended in a draw (W6 L6).
- Edinson Cavani has scored only one goal in his last nine Champions League games; he’d netted six goals in his previous nine.
- Hatem Ben Arfa has scored in only one of his 23 Champions League games, a brace against Vfb Stuttgart in November 2007 when he was at Lyon.
- Petr Cech has kept 47 clean sheets in 111 Champions League games. Only Iker Casillas (51) and Edwin van der Sar (50) have kept more among goalkeepers.
- Alexis Sanchez has scored three and assisted five of Arsenal’s last 13 Champions League goals (62%).
- Unai Emery has reached the knockout stages of the Champions League once in four participations: with Valencia in 2010/11 (eliminated in the Last 16). He’s lost nine of his last 12 games in the competition (W3).
- Arsène Wenger has taken charge of 176 games in the Champions League, more than any other current manager. Only Alex Ferguson boasts more games (190). The last time he faced Paris SG was in August 1994 with Monaco; he lost 1-0 at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1.