On the opening night of the 25th UEFA Champions League campaign, Paris Saint-Germain faced off against group rivals Arsenal at the Parc des Princes. Spirits were high after this summer’s managerial change but doubts still remained over what has been a disappointing start to the season for the reigning French champions.
Unai Emery was without several players due to injury, namely Layvin Kurzawa who was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and was forced to adjust his starting lineup. Maxwell was slotted into the left-back position and dynamic midfielder Blaise Matuidi was pushed out wide to compensate for Maxwell’s lack of pace. Javier Pastore was not deemed fit to start the match and left the former Sevilla manager no choice but to play a 4-3-3 formation due to the lack of a proper number 10 (Hatem Ben Arfa was left off the Champions League roster).
The match opened with PSG knocking the ball around the pitch confidently and after just 44 seconds, Edinson Cavani’s header from the marauding right-back Serge Aurier flew past Arsenal keeper David Ospina. The rest of the first half belonged to PSG as well. The hosts had plenty of clear-cut scoring chances and should have went into the half with at least a two goal advantage.
In the second half, the visitors pushed up and retained the ball better but really struggled to penetrate PSG’s compact defense. Emery’s team sat back and absorbed pressure and looked to catch Arsenal on the counter. Both El Matador and Angel Di Maria tested Ospina on numerous occasions and it has to be said that the Colombian was outstanding on the night.
In the 78th minute, Arsenal got the goal they came for after a shot was pushed out by Alphonse Areola and Alexis Sanchez pounced on the rebound. PSG desperately tried to regain the lead but it was not meant to be. The referee blew the whistle and after dominating for most of the game, PSG had to settle for the 1-1 draw knowing they should have won. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Paris, the result might be unfair but they proved to the fans and themselves that they can play good football and create chances against a talented team like Arsenal without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The two stand-out players on the day were Marco Verratti, who dictated the game with his incredible dribbling and pin-point passing, and Aurier, who caused all kinds of problems for Arsenal’s left-back Nacho Monreal all game. Emery can also have confidence in his center-half pairing of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, the former having an especially solid performance. I also thought Grzegorz Krychowiak had a solid game and is starting to find his place in the team. Kurzawa is expected back soon so that will be another addition to the side that wasn’t available on Tuesday. If Pastore can return to full fitness soon, Emery will not only have a world class player at his disposal, but this also means he can play his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which at times looked great during pre-season. Pastore is one of the best in the world at creating scoring chances and with him in the side, that just means more opportunities for Cavani and you have to imagine the Uruguayan will shake off whatever is keeping him from finishing in front of goal.
Yes, the Arsenal result stung a bit but there’s plenty to be positive about. PSG have players returning from injury, new signings still settling in, a manager full of confidence, and a striker relentless in attack. Now, the club must string together a few good results and shake off the rust before match day two against Ludogorets on September 28.
Photograph by Julian Finney/Getty Image