One always suspected they had this in them. Far too much was going well. Easily qualified for the knockout rounds; still cruising without a loss since their very first game; something was going to give. And, indeed, despite remaining undefeated in Group A, Arsenal have managed to contrive a clever new way, an Arsenal way, to finish second in their group.
Splitting their home at home with PSG with a pair of draws, PSG claimed the tie breaker having scored two goals in London while Arsenal managed only one in Paris. Both teams are likely to win their final games, as neither Basel or Ludogorets have managed much in the way of opposition this round, thus leaving Arsenal once again in 2nd place.
But everyone knew they would find their way to Barcelona, right?
Aaron Ramsey. After a nightmare game vs Man Utd, Aaron Ramsey was slotted immediately back into the team. But this time in his actual preferred position. Taking up the central midfield spot where he seemed to function as the deepest midfielder but also an attacking box-to-box one, Ramsey put in a superb performance and was the best player on the pitch. Good passing, some excellent tackles and a major contribution leading to their 2nd goal off Verratti, he epitomize what he can bring to the position. One could say, it went Welsh. Now, if only they had someone to complement him to play along side...
Alexis Sanchez. Moved off the front line to last year’s wing position, Alexis remained a pretty potent force and his paper mache leg remained intact. Perhaps guilty of embellishing the minor contact that led to the Arsenal penalty, but either way he won it. Both teams appeared to try to goad the ref into these decisions (Cavani most lamely) but it was his that the ref bought. That matters until leagues stop allowing teams to get away with it. Alexis also displayed some excellent work on defense, the likes I’ve rarely seen and Arsenal sorely needed in this game.
Still... not losing. Yeah. Still not losing. Take it where you can get it, friends.
1st Half. It looked to be a Saturday repeat. Arsenal started the game flat, unwilling to chase the ball, which allowed an excellent distribution team like PSG all the space in the world. It led, like on Saturday, to the opening goal. For much of the first 45, the team was utterly out of it and not for a clever bit by Alexis, could easily have been down going into half time. Fortunately, unlike Saturday, Arsenal came out awake in the 2nd which saw them take the lead. Unfortunately...
Tying Goal. No one really covered themselves in glory on either goal but this one stung. Kieran Gibbs did well to deal with a dangerous play but it led to a corner. The corner was deep to a wide open Lucas Moura who put not the most powerful header on net... which glanced off Alex Iwobi’s head and past a ready David Ospina. Other than someone marking Lucas, it really was just as unfortunate and poor as PSG’s own goal at the other end and spoiled what was turning into a stolid defensive stand by Arsenal.
Centerbacks. Laruent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi have been very good for Arsenal. One of the best pairings in England, even. Today was not their strongest day. Their ball movement was a bit errant and decisions making a bit slow. Even after they both got beaten on the opening goal, Cavani was still finding a lot of time and space and could have put the game away. Both CBs looked like they could use a break. As of yet, though, Wenger doesn’t seem to trust Gabriel or Holding to cover in any game but domestic cups. We’ll see if that changes soon.
Carl Jenkinson. To be fair, there is a very small number of players who could come into Hector Bellerin’s position and cover for him adequately, a job made more difficult by the team selection seemingly pretends Bellerin is still on the field. It’s hard to do what the Spaniard does. But Jenks didn’t just fail to accomplish his task, he was blisteringly poor. He misplayed passes, put crosses into no man’s sky, tripped over the ball and... look, it was just a really, really bad game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked more competent at rightback than Carl did, albeit he was only one for a short time. That’s worrying and unless Jenkinson can brush it off and improve, his stint at Arsenal could soon be over.
Whatever Granit Has To Do To Get On The Field. Hm. (looks at transfer needs of 2015-16). (looks at price on Xhaka transfer). (looks at starts).
No, really? What’s he gotta do?
I get it. No player should dictate to the team on selection unless that player is Alexis Sanchez because he just shows up first and is on the field before you can tell him no. But this is ridiculous. Arsenal screamed for a CM to bring them back to the glory days of Gilberto Silva (or at the very least a Healthy Arteta) and the went out and bought one. A young, highly touted, scout loved, Champions League blooded defensive midfielder who could do more than “chase ball, get ball”. And he doesn’t play. Had he been playing and doing poorly, one would understand, but you don’t spend that money to not play someone.
Furthermore, how does this look to any other top notch player who might want to make the jump to England? What guarantees does a Marco Rues or Julian Draxler or whoever have that if they come to Arsenal, they won’t be set aside until deemed “ready”. This is squad selection and transfer policy at its most baffling. The midfield is still highly questionable and perhaps their best option isn’t getting the starts. It’s ugly and how much more does it need to cost Arsenal before it’s fixed.