The timing of my latest ten day dry spell was a bit out. I should have started tomorrow, not yesterday! The team news pre-match didn’t help my nervousness. As last year Arsene Wenger put his faith in his squad. In goal was David Ospina, and a starting deep-lying midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla surprised.
There was a start for out of form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alexis was preferred to French striker Olivier Giroud. Rotation didn’t work against Zagreb and Olympiacos last season, and the pundits (plus many on social media) were quick to pick up on that.
I turned Twitter off, put my hands together, and begged for divine intervention in the toughest fixture we will play in the group phase. In the opening 42 seconds however everyone’s worst fears were realised as Aurier ran away from Nacho Monreal and crossed for the unmarked Cavani to glance a header inside Ospina’s far post.
PSG 1-0 Arsenal
Before ten minutes was out we were indebted to Laurent Koscielny for a superb block to deny Rabiot after Shkodran Mustafi had surrendered the ball cheaply. Then Ospina had to head back towards his goal to prevent a DiMaria corner from catching him out.
The French side were treasuring possession and looked capable of opening a disjointed and unbalanced Arsenal team at will. We had to wait until the 22nd minute for Monreal to get clear down the left, cut in, and cross for Oxlade-Chamberlain at the far post to head back across goal to nobody in particular. Two unproductive corners followed.
Francis Coquelin collected his customary early yellow card in the 24th minute with a reckless challenge in the Paris half. I wonder if at that early stage Arsene ever wondered about bringing on Mohamed Elneny or Granit Xhaka, both sitting on the bench behind him?
The sight of Alexis begging someone to advance to meet the onrushing wave upon wave of blue was almost painful to watch. The PSG full-backs, with whitewash on their boots, had the freedom of the flanks. If one was looking for a positive as the end of the half approached it was that we were still only one down and in with a punchers chance of a miracle.
That we still were when Cavani took the ball round the onrushing Ospina and inexplicably drove it wide of an open goal was something of a miracle in itself. The whistle has rarely felt as welcome.
Astonishingly we started the second-half with the same disjointed and unbalanced eleven. To be fair we attempted to apply the early pressure but seemed unable to create anything clear cut. We were open to the break and when it inevitably arrived we could be grateful that DiMaria opted to throw himself to the floor in the box rather than look to go one on one with Ospina.
Coquelin, often our most advanced threat, produced our first meaningful effort from twenty-five yards that looked on target before it was blocked in the box. At least the travelling Gooners were being treated to a degree of effort sadly lacking in the opening half.
Hector Ballerin’s acrobatics denied the home side a greater advantage and that was the trigger for Olivier Giroud to replace the luckless Oxlade-Chamberlain just past the hour. It still required successive blocks by Ospina to thwart Aurier and Cavani. Credit the goalkeeper for those.
At last we saw Granit Xhaka summoned to replace Coquelin, but again Ospina was called upon to deny DiMaria. PSG too used their bench at this point, bringing on Motta for Rabiot. Not too shabby, I suppose.
From out of nowhere came PSG’s punishment for not wrapping the game up. Iwobi’s effort was saved but the rebound fell invitingly for Alexis who needed no second invitation to bury the opportunity. You had to credit the boys resiliance and spirit at this point.
PSG 1-1 Arsenal
PSG responded immediately. Cavani out-muscled Mustafi and looked to go round Ospina who again got a vital touch. It was end to end stuff as both sides sought the winner. Mustafi made a wonderful block to prevent Cavani getting a clear sight of goal. Iwobi tried his luck again at the other end and was denied for a second time by the ‘keeper.
With six minutes left Elneny was sent on for Ozil, presumably to secure an unlikely point on the night. Giroud, moody and snarling, talked himself into a yellow card. He and Verrati then saw second yellows and a red each for a little bit of handbags.
At the end of the evening the boss would argue that his selection was entirely justified, while his critics might counter that if the ten outfield players who were on the pitch when we equalised had started we might have beaten distracted and far from ruthless opponents.
Me, I’m just going to try and relax with a cup of tea.