Arsenal host PSG at the Emirates this evening knowing that a victory will see them top Group A with a game to spare. The Gunners have been eliminated at the last-16 stage in each of the last six seasons; twice by Barcelona and twice by Bayern Munich. These tough draws have sometimes been the punishing consequence of finishing second in the group stage, but this year’s competition looks finely balanced. Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are in the same group, as are Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. Arsene Wenger’s side could get a tough draw regardless, but you can’t be reproached for winning the group and doing the all that was asked of you.
The return tie in Paris was defined by a personal battle between Edinson Cavani and David Ospina, with Cavani spurning a number of presentable chances and the Colombian stopper excelling as the visitors grabbed a 1-1 draw. Alexis Sanchez scored a fine equaliser late on, but in truth the result was a touch fortuitous. Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United was a similar story, and Arsenal fans will want to see a more cohesive and productive attacking performance here. Olivier Giroud, Alex Iwobi, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka were on the bench at the weekend, so Wenger does have the resources to ring the changes.
Arsenal are unbeaten since the opening weekend of the season, but have drawn three of their last four league games. The fast, fluent and creative play that defined their early season form has waned a touch, with Santi Cazorla’s injury making them a little bit more predictable in the middle of the park. PSG had some indifferent results early on under new boss Unai Emery, but have won five of their last six in Ligue 1 and have kept four straight clean sheets.
Arsenal starting XI
Injuries and Suspensions
Danny Welbeck, Per Mertesacker and Cazorla are long-term absentees for Arsenal, while Hector Bellerin is also absent with an ankle problem. Summer signing Lucas Perez is back in light training but is still a few weeks away from a first-team return. Reports suggest Alexis Sanchez might be given some rest over the next few weeks. Angel di Maria limped off against Nice at the weekend and is a doubt. Javier Pastore and Adrien Rabiot remain in Paris with injuries. In a bizarre turn of events, Serge Aurier was refused entry into the UK because of a criminal conviction so misses out.
On paper this looks a big game for both teams, but in truth the consequences of a defeat are not exactly catastrophic for either. PSG’s strength is in central midfield, with the well balanced trio of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti likely to give the visitors plenty of control. Arsenal struggled to build play through the thirds of the pitch against United, and surely Xhaka will be given a start to help them do this. Sanchez might be given a rest, and Giroud is chomping at the bit to get a start following recent goals from the bench. Arsenal were fortunate to stay in the game in Paris, but when they started to warm to their task in the second half of that game they caused Emery’s side plenty of problems. Wenger will want to wrap up top spot so that he can put the kids out against Basel, but Arsenal have lost a little bit of vibrancy in recent weeks so we’re plumping for a draw.
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