Arsenal’s start to the season has been unconvincing for the most part, but in the Champions League, there is a line below which Arsene Wenger’s sides do not seem to fall.
That would appear to be the case in this year’s edition as well. Arsenal were drawn in the same group as PSG, but aside from that, facing Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad does not sound like the toughest group the Gunners could have faced. Could. Have. Been. Worse.
But so often over the past decade or so, Arsene Wenger’s problem has been coming second in their group. It’s not that Arsenal are incapable of progressing past the last 16 of the competition through the size of the club, resources, players or gypsy curse. It’s that Arsenal’s perennial second-place finishes in the group stage has meant unfavourable draws in the last 16.
This season is a chance to change that. Whilst PSG are rightly to be considered one of European football’s powerhouses, Arsenal will also rightly feel confident that they can go toe to toe with the Parisians, and gearing up for a showdown for top-spot at the Emirates at the end of November.
If Arsenal have flattered to deceive in the opening weeks of the season, then PSG have flat-out disappointed.
Whilst PSG are supposed to have won the league already, they find themselves sitting seventh in the (fairly academic and meaningless at this stage) table.
What’s more, PSG are having some serious problems. The French champions now find themselves on a run of two matches without a win, losing to what could well be title rivals Monaco and drawing at home to St Etienne, where they conceded a last-minute equaliser.
All is not well…
A defeat and a draw may not sound like a crisis, but remember that this is a team who lost only two league games in the entirety of last season, scoring 102 goals and conceding just 19. This is a team who won the league by all of 31 points; their nearest rivals closer to the relegation zone than they were to a title challenge.
If ever there was a time when PSG’s entitled fans would get on the backs of their team, it’s losing at home again on the back of their last two league games. And so if there was ever a time for Arsenal to score an early goal….
More worrying than their form is the fact that PSG were tactically out-thought by Monaco just before the international break.
Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco – who face Tottenham in the Champions League – closed off PSG’s ability to attack down the flanks, especially at full back where Layvin Kurzawa likes to get forward and is helped out by Blaise Matuidi. Jardim’s 5-3-1-1 formation stifled PSG’s creativity in the middle and closed down the flanks with speed. They reduced the champions to only four shots on target, despite their 75% possession.
If a compact defence, closing off the flanks and countering quickly are how Monaco managed to beat PSG, it’s also how Manchester City dumped them out of the Champions League last season. Is this how Arsenal will approach it?
The departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic really changes PSG’s team. That doesn’t necessarily mean their formation or even their approach, but it does change their make up and perhaps even their identity.
For the last four years, Ibrahimovic has been the focal point of the team and the man who can conjure something out of nothing. In that time they’ve added players to play off him, but none who can obviously replace him. And that might take them a few months to get right.
Until then, Edinson Cavani looks like the main man, with Angel di Maria, Hatem Ben Arfa, Lucas Moura and Jese Rodriguez all fighting for the right to buzz around in behind him.
Angel di Maria is the most gifted attacking player in the Paris St-Germain team, but the problem is, where does he play?
That’s the question asked of both Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid and indeed Louis van Gaal at Manchester United. Is Di Maria a pacey, tricky winger? Is he a creative playmaker? A busy number ten? Or a midfield scurrier who shuttles the ball forward and supports the attack?
Until Unai Emery finds a proper use for his main man, PSG are always going to look a little bit lost.