The Gunners will likely finish second in Group A of the Champions League after drawing 2-2 with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. PSG will host Ludogorets next month and will just need to match Arsenal’s result against Basel in order to top the group. The Gunners performed a bit better than in Paris two months ago but they failed to protect a 2-1 lead in the second half.
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Wenger added more physicality to the side that earned a point in France by making 4 changes with Gibbs, Jenkinson, Ramsey and Giroud replacing Monreal, Bellerin, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting lineup. The manager didn’t have the choice with Bellerin and Cazorla, who are still injured, while Ramsey was not available in September.
Ramsey definitely had an impact on Wednesday as he made 3 successful dribbles out of 3 and won 6 of 11 tackles, according to Squawka. No other player won or made as many tackles. The only downside to Ramsey’s relentless activity was his 8 turnovers, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The Wales midfielder proved a valuable goal threat in the 60th minute when his shot ricocheted off Marquinhos and Verratti to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead. Ramsey also chested down a cross from Sanchez in the 79th to fire wide from 25 yards.
It was a gutsy call from Wenger to start Giroud against such a strong team. Giroud’s lack of pace let him down as he was caught offside 3 times. However, he showed his fighting spirit up front by winning 5 of 6 headers and 3 of 7 tackles, more than Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi combined. The Frenchman created the equalizer on the stroke of halftime by robbing Krychowiak and finding Ozil. The Germany playmaker made a reverse pass for Sanchez, who was tripped by Krychowiak inside the box. Giroud converted the subsequent penalty by sending Areola the wrong way.
- Emery outfoxed Wenger (again)
PSG enjoyed 54% of ball possession and outplayed Arsenal by creating 11 chances and producing 14 shots compared to just 2 chances and 5 shots for the hosts. The Gunners struggled so badly in the first half that Giroud’s penalty was their first goal attempt of the game.
PSG proved the better side in September for three main reasons: Monreal and Iwobi let Aurier enjoy too much freedom down the left flank; the Gunners were outnumbered in midfield; and Verratti and Di Maria were poorly marked when they dropped back to make key passes. Wenger failed to come up with a better game plan to fix those issues in the second encounter between the two teams.
- Arsenal’s attacking midfielders didn’t work hard enough (again)
In Paris, Ozil, Iwobi and Oxlade-Chamberlain let Cazorla and Coquelin drown in midfield. It was pretty much the same story in London with Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi contributing very little defensively. Ozil made no tackle while Sanchez and Iwobi lost the only tackle they attempted. By contrast, Moura won 4 of 6 tackles, Verratti 2 of 7 and Matuidi 3 of 6.
PSG won the midfield battle by starting three defensive midfielders (Krychowiak, Motta and Matuidi) and a deep-lying playmaker (Verratti). Ramsey led Arsenal with 68 passes, which is ridiculous compared to Verratti’s 107 passes and Motta’s 92 passes. I would have added more steel by starting Coquelin, Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield, even if it implied moving Ozil to the right flank.
- Arsenal must better protect the pocket of space behind the striker
In September, PSG used the gap between the centerforward and the duo formed by Coquelin and Cazorla as a springboard for attacks with Di Maria and Verratti often dropping back in Ozil’s zone to send pinpoint balls over the top. Obviously, the Gunners did not learn their lesson as they failed to press Verratti and Motta in that pocket of space. Verratti finished the game with 4 key passes, the most for any player. Motta created the opening goal in the 18th minute by floating between Ramsey and Ozil to feed Matuidi. Mustafi was not tight enough to Matuidi, who set up Cavani for a tap-in.
- The Gunners have a problem down their left flank
Aurier was denied a right of entry to the United Kingdom because he was convicted for assaulting a police officer in France. That did not prevent Gibbs and Iwobi from struggling against Moura and Meunier just like Monreal and Iwobi struggled against Di Maria and Aurier two months ago.
Moura proved a thorn in Arsenal’s side with 3 key passes. Cavani made a run in behind Koscielny in the 63rd to collect a through ball from Moura but a heavy touch from the Uruguay striker allowed Ospina to gather the ball. PSG could have scored the winner in the 82nd when Gibbs failed to stop a cross from Moura. Cavani ghosted past Mustafi at the far post but headed wide Moura’s offering.
- Iwobi’s poor run of form continues
Iwobi has performed poorly since October. Yet, Wenger has kept his trust in the Nigeria international despite an apparent sophomore slump. Iwobi won only 14.3% of his duels according to the club’s website, the lowest percentage among all the midfielders. He was dispossessed four times in the first 15 minutes by running into traffic instead of releasing the ball more quickly. Iwobi’s confidence is low and you can feel that he’s trying too hard.
At 20, Iwobi is still a work in progress, so there’s no reason to panic. But he must improve his defensive awareness. Iwobi allowed Meunier to make a couple of dangerous crosses in the first half. When Iwobi switched to the right flank in the middle of the second half, he failed to close down Maxwell in the 76th, forcing Gibbs to head out the cross from the PSG fullback.
- You can’t switch off at the top level
The Gunners looked listless in the first half like in their game against Manchester United. They lacked the will or the energy to press PSG when the French club had the ball and slowed the pace of the game. Arsenal also made basic marking mistakes on corners. Cavani escaped marking to head a corner in the 15th. The ball bounced off Silva and was cleared off the line by Gibbs.
PSG capitalized on another corner to equalize in the 76th. Jenkinson was not tight enough to Moura, who headed a corner at the far post. Iwobi diverted the ball into his own net, wrongfooting Ospina who seemed in a good position to make the save. Jenkinson is five inches taller than Moura and would have won the header if he had properly marked the Brazilian winger.
- There’s a huge gap in quality between Jenkinson and Bellerin
No Arsenal fan can be surprised that Bellerin recently signed a contract extension. Debuchy is clearly past his prime while Jenkinson is a decent starter for an average side but not a big club. Jenkinson only won 20% of his duels according to the club’s website, the lowest percentage among all the defenders. He’s obviously guilty for PSG’s equalizer and will also need to work on his delivery. Jenkinson overhit a pass for Ramsey in the 30th and sent a cross out of play in the 42nd. Besides the cross that led to Arsenal’s second goal, his main positive contribution was a clearance that prevented Matuidi from connecting with a cross from Moura in the 72nd. Jenkinson made no tackle and none of his two dribbling attempts was successful, while Gibbs won 2 of 5 tackles and made 2 successful dribbles out of 4.
- Koscielny and Mustafi had a hard time with the pace of Cavani and Moura
Koscielny gave the ball away to Moura in the 52nd and picked up a yellow card by fouling the Brazilian winger, who almost punished Arsenal with the subsequent curling free kick that rattled the bar. Moura then outpaced both Koscielny and Mustafi in the 79th to feed Cavani, whose lob attempt was saved by Ospina. Cavani also made runs in behind Mustafi in the sixth minute and the 82nd but lacked the finishing touch.