The sense of deflation which grumbled around the majority of supporters left in this arena at the final whistle told its own story.
Arsenal have passed up an opportunity to win Group A and given that Paris Saint-Germain may not grant them a second chance, will approach the weeks ahead with a familiar sense of dread as to what awaits in the new year. The last round of fixtures may yet conjure a reprieve but that seems unlikely. The initiative is undoubtedly with the French club.
It seems inconceivable that PSG, now top of Group A and bolstered by a better head-to-head record with the Gunners, could fail to see off Ludogorets at Parc des Princes on the night Arsenal complete their group campaign with a far trickier game at Basel. Finishing second could condemn Arsène Wenger’s side to a daunting collision with any of Barcelona, Juventus or Atlético Madrid in the first knockout round. “At the moment we are second, but it’s not over,” offered Wenger, optimistically. “But if we do finish there, you can’t guess whether that’s good or bad. You have to wait for the draw.” In truth, Arsenal have learned through bitter experience what a failure to secure first place tends to produce.
The last 16 has been the limit of their involvement for the past six seasons and given how Wenger’s side have rather clung on desperately in two meetings with Paris Saint-Germain in this group, there has been little evidence offered up to suggest they will be better placed to progress further this time. Arsenal may remain undefeated in the group, and across 18 games in all competitions since the opening weekend of the season, but the French club were more accomplished in both draws and if Edinson Cavani had not been so profligate home and away, the Premier League side would have been gasping in the Paris team’s vapour trail.
The Uruguayan missed two excellent opportunities in the frantic closing stages alone. His movement is invariably excellent but he chokes too often when offered time to contemplate a finish. If PSG had someone with more instinctive bite, they would be true contenders.
Even so, they were still the better team here aside from a 10-minute period around the interval, when their concentration and intensity were disrupted by a burst of local urgency. In Marco Verratti they have a midfielder of real pedigree, while Blaise Matuidi seems to raise his game whenever confronted by English opposition. This was a third successive trip to London – the first two at Chelsea – which has yielded a sense of satisfaction.
Arsenal could cling to their resilience as cause for optimism. They might have been sunk in those early exchanges, when Verratti swarmed all over their midfield and Thiago Motta’s calm authority went unchallenged. It had been his pass between Carl Jenkinson and Shkodran Mustafi which liberated Matuidi, with his centre drilled across goal for Cavani to score from point-blank range. Yet rather than wilt in the face of an onslaught, the home side eventually roused themselves to recover.
In the seconds before the interval Olivier Giroud stole possession from Grzegorz Krychowiak just outside the area. In the confusion that followed, Mesut Özil’s clever reverse pass found Alexis Sánchez who, sensing the panicked Krychowiak sliding in, stretched out his back leg seeking contact and, feeling the touch to his right foot, eagerly went to ground.
“I can’t kid myself, my mistake cost the team a fair bit,” Krychowiak said. “Maybe it was a bit of a lack of concentration, taking a bit of a chance in a dangerous part of the pitch.”
The penalty award prompted a spat between Cavani and Aaron Ramsey, the striker making contact with his opponent unwisely on the chest, leaving the Welshman clutching his jaw – both managers dismissed it as handbags unworthy of real sanction – and Giroud converted the spot-kick with what was Arsenal’s first shot of note.
At least that proved PSG were vulnerable and when Jenkinson’s second-half cross was scuffed goalwards by Ramsey after the interval, the French side imploded yet again. The attempt was only vaguely threatening but composure had drained.
Marquinhos duly rammed his clearance into an onrushing Verratti, off balance and facing his own goal, with the ball scuttling beyond Alphonse Areola and into the corner of the net. Yet that concession never seemed likely to prove the tie’s defining moment. That was supplied by Lucas Moura, permitted too much space by Jenkinson at Hatem Ben Arfa’s corner and whose header flicked off Alex Iwobi and beyond the goalkeeper David Ospina to claim the draw.
Iwobi departed crestfallen for the bench seconds later. “The frustrating thing was Ospina was behind him, and Alex is certainly the most disappointed by what happened to him,” said Wenger. “It’s part of the game. We have to take it on the chin and support him.” His team have now drawn three games in a row. “We have not lost but we have lost a winning momentum a little bit. But we played against a good team tonight as well.”
Certainly, PSG’s credentials in this competition feel more persuasive. Arsenal can only travel to Switzerland in a fortnight in hope. Or pray that next month’s draw will be kind.
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