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PSG 1 - Arsenal 1: same as it ever was

Arsenal drew after an awful European performance that we’ve seen again and again and again.

Paris Saint-Germain v Arsenal FC - UEFA Champions League
I can’t believe it’s not working!
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

In last season’s Champions League, Arsène Wenger started David Ospina in the first two Champions League games. Arsenal lost both of those games—away at Zagreb, at home to Olympiakos—as Ospina failed to provide the assurance as Petr Cech and literally threw the ball into his own net.

In the 2014/15 Champions League, Arsène Wenger started a midfield pivot of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla at home to Monaco, and Arsenal lost 3-1. He played that same duo in the Olympiakos loss and away at Bayern Munich, as Arsenal got creamed 5-1.

Today, away at Paris St. Germain, a big European tie, one that may decide if Arsenal finish top of their group or not, Wenger went with the same failed midfield duo and the same failed goalkeeper. David Ospina is not good enough. Coquelin and Cazorla are not good enough as a midfield duo. We know this. We’ve had ample evidence of this. And Wenger had better options on the bench: £52m worth of talent in Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny who all should’ve started instead of Ospina, Coquelin and Cazorla.

Alexis Sánchez started as a centre forward—a move that is not the worst idea if Arsenal have the runners to take advantage of his movement wide and deep. But Aaron Ramsey is injured, Theo Walcott has an injury. The player who made runs beyond Alexis? Francis Coquelin, who is barely talented for a defensive midfield role and is completely incompetent to play as a box to box midfielder.

Ah yes. That’s Coquelin’s new remit this season, as a decoy. He pushes forward, leaving Cazorla as the ball player. That’s fine, but Cazorla can barely fake it as a #8, let alone a more defensive minded midfielder, and especially not away in a European tie, as we see here, as Cazorla is shrugged off by Marco Verratti, a man two inches and a lot slimmer than Cazorla.

It’s just too bad Arsenal don’t have a solution—oh, what’s that? They bought Granit Xhaka in the summer for £35m? And he was fresh from the weekend, where he didn’t play? If Wenger thinks that Ospina, Coquelin and Cazorla is good enough for away European games, then questions must be asked not only of his judgment of players, but of his fiscal management, for £52m is a lot to spend on players who the manager doesn’t think are upgrades on what he already has, who sit on the bench in big games.

People will say that Wenger went with what he knows, in Coquelin and Cazorla. To which, if Wenger is going to play mediocrity out of fear, then Arsenal must replace him, out of fear of accepting mediocrity.

Oh, and the result? Before the game, Wenger said the following: I just want to play a team that can perform. They made some changes to adapt to us and we’ve made some changes to stop them playing. So it’s not a massive surprise.

Arsenal duly conceded after 44 seconds and were dominated in the midfield for the entirety of the first 60 minutes. Only poor finishing from Edinson Cavani and some good keeping from Ospina (!) kept the score from being a repeat of Stamford Bridge 2014, and somehow kept Arsenal in the game. Giroud replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xhaka replaced Coquelin 71 minutes too late.

Alexis scored the equaliser after good work from Özil and a saved shot from Iwobi. Iwobi had a chance to win it, but his weak shot was saved. Then Elneny replaced not Cazorla, but Mesut Özil. But hey, at least Wenger got the midfield two right, 85 minutes in. Olivier Giroud and Marco Verratti, both on yellows, got sent off for getting into afters needlessly. For Giroud, it is a repeat of last September’s red card.

So Arsenal came away with a point, but it was very much a case of good result, bad process. And it’s been too much of that over the last two and a half seasons, and Wenger seems to be ignoring the bad process, because he keeps making the same flawed decisions. And so Arsenal are going to have the same, flawed season until he no longer manages Arsenal. Same as it ever was.