Ospina’s heroics helped Arsenal salvage a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League opener on Tuesday. That’s a very good result because the Gunners performed so poorly that they could have lost 5-0 if Cavani had been clinical.
- Wenger doesn’t care what the news media will say about his team selection
Last season, journalists openly questioned why Wenger preferred Ospina to Cech in the Champions League. By fumbling the ball into his own net against Olympiakos, Ospina put his manager in a tough spot. Wenger gave in to pressure from the news media by dropping him from the starting lineup against Bayern Munich. A year later, the manager gave a second chance to Ospina by starting him against PSG and that decision paid dividends.
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First, Ospina made a routine save by tipping away a direct corner kick from Di Maria in the 13th minute. Then he produced a Man of the Match performance when PSG had four big chances with just the goalkeeper to beat. Aurier played a one-two with Di Maria in the 68th but was denied by Ospina. The Colombia goalkeeper also tipped Di Maria’s shot over the bar in the 71st. Those were two fine saves. But the reason why Wenger called Ospina a world-class goalkeeper after the game is the two outstanding saves he made. After stealing the ball from Koscielny in the 69th, Cavani was clean through on goal but saw his close-range effort stopped by Ospina’s leg. In the closing minutes, Cavani held off Koscielny and tried to round Ospina, but the goalie stretched out his arm to knock the ball away.
- Arsenal’s mental approach is wrong
PSG started on the front foot while the Gunners had the same lack of urgency they displayed against Southampton. In the first half, Arsenal had no shot on target and created only a half-chance when Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass for Sanchez was cleared by Marquinhos in the 22nd. The Gunners would make life much easier for themselves if they could show focus and commitment at kickoff.
- The attacking midfielders didn’t work hard enough
PSG started the game with four defensive midfielders (Krychowiak, Rabiot, Matuidi and Verratti). It was pretty clear that a midfield battle was coming. Yet, Ozil, Iwobi and the Ox let Cazorla and Coquelin drown in midfield. Here are the number of tackles won by each player according to whoscored.com: PSG midfielders and wingers combined for 11 tackles won (Rabiot 3, Verratti 3, Matuidi 3, Krychowiak 1, Di Maria 1), while Arsenal midfielders and wingers only had 6 (Cazorla 2, Ox 2, Iwobi 2, Coquelin 0, Ozil 0).
Iwobi won 2 tackles but he also often left Monreal in 1v2 situations, which explains why Aurier had so much freedom on our left flank to make dangerous crosses. In midfield, PSG exploited the huge gap between Sanchez and the duo formed by Coquelin and Cazorla to send pinpoint balls over the top. Cavani beat the offside trap to chest down a long ball from Di Maria in the 42nd but lost his balance while attempting to pull the trigger. Then Di Maria collected a ball over the top from Verratti in the 53rd but lost possession with a poor touch. It’s completely suicidal to play a high defensive line if there’s no pressure on the ballholder, especially if it’s Verratti or Di Maria. PSG substitute Pastore had also plenty of room to slip a through ball to Cavani in the 80th.
- Is Ozil the right player for those games?
The Gunners had very little time on the ball because of PSG’s pressing game and they were forced to defend a lot because the French club bossed the midfield. PSG enjoyed 52.4% of ball possession and made 48 more passes than Arsenal. It’s not as bad as the statistics against Bayern Munich last season but it still shows which team had the edge.
Defensively, Ozil was a liability because he didn’t press Di Maria or Verratti when they dropped back to send balls over the top. Offensively, Ozil poorly took a free kick in the ninth minute, overhit a through ball in the 15th and finished the game with only 1 key pass, compared to 3 for Cazorla and 2 for Sanchez. To limit Ozil’s negative impact on the defense, Low played him on the right wing of the Germany team at the Euro 2016. That position gave Ozil the possibility to cut inside and shoot with his left foot. It’s an option that Wenger might consider.
- Ramsey would have been an asset in that kind of match
Defensively, Ramsey would have won more tackles than any Arsenal midfielder. He may sometimes lack tactical discipline but he would have certainly bridged the gap between Sanchez and Coquelin. Offensively, Ramsey would have been a bigger goal threat than the Ox, whose lack of end product is frustrating. In the 63rd, Sanchez fed the Ox, who inexplicably fluffed his shot. The Ox finished the game with 6 turnovers, the most for any player, and 19 passes, the fewest for any starter.
- The Gunners are vulnerable on crosses
That’s how Arsenal conceded goals last season in the 3-2 loss to Manchester United and the 3-3 draw with West Ham. On Tuesday, Monreal failed to close down Aurier for the opening goal. The PSG fullback made a cross for Cavani, who headed into the bottom corner after 44 seconds. Mustafi poorly marked Cavani on that play while Koscielny was pulled out of position by following Di Maria deep into PSG territory. That was quite naive from Koscielny, who was not even inside the Arsenal area when Cavani headed the ball. Monreal gave again too much space to Aurier for a cross in the 61st but Matuidi flicked his first-time effort over the bar. Monreal also made an awkward tackle in the 34th that wrongfooted Koscielny and gifted the ball to Cavani, who rounded Ospina only to miss the target.
The problem with Monreal is that he doesn’t have much pace. Therefore, he gives himself a bit of room to catch up in a foot race. That’s fine if his opponent intends to dribble past him. But if his opponent wants to cross the ball like Aurier, then Monreal is in trouble to stop the cross because of the space between the ball and himself.
- Sanchez is useless in the lone striker role
The Chile international looked decent as a centerforward against Watford, but he’s simply not good enough in that position against the good teams. Wenger keeps mentioning that Sanchez used to play as a lone striker with his previous clubs. But the reality is that Sanchez feels almost as uncomfortable as Walcott when playing back to goal. He can’t really hold the ball up and his link-up play is average.
Sanchez performed better when he moved back to the left wing after Giroud replaced the Ox in the 63rd. Iwobi controlled a pass from Ozil in the 77th to fire a shot that Areola parried into the path of Sanchez, who slammed home a first-time effort for the equalizer. Six minutes later, Sanchez picked out Iwobi, whose curling shot was palmed away by Areola.
- Giroud doesn’t learn from his mistakes
A year ago, Giroud got sent off against Dinamo Zagreb after receiving two yellow cards, one for dissent and one for a silly foul. The combustible France striker repeated that sequence of events on Tuesday by yelling at the referee in the 88th and by ploughing into Verratti in stoppage time after the ball was gone. It’s quite a problem for the Gunners, who will next play Basel, a team weaker than PSG that will probably park the bus. A target inside the box would have helped crack a stubborn defense but Giroud will be suspended, unfortunately.