clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Wenger’s faith in his players is still a 50/50 gamble

The Colombian “showed his detractors” against PSG, but Wenger continues to give fans trust issues of their own.

Paris Saint-Germain v Arsenal FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Although David Ospina, Arsenal’s oft-maligned backup goalkeeper, was the subject of most of the pre-match scrutiny from Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against French champions Paris Saint-Germain, the Colombian made four awe-inspiring second-half saves to keep Arsenal in contention until the final whistle and give Alexis Sanchez the opportunity to equalize in the 77th minute.

Arsenal twitter was in an (albeit justified) absolute frenzy after yesterday’s lineup was released, citing the keeper’s performances against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos last year. Petr Čech was controversially dropped for the Gunners’ first two Champions League before being reinstated after scoring an own goal off a corner in Arsenal’s 3-2 defeat by Olympiakos at the Emirates.

“Last year he made a mistake [against Olympiakos] in the Champions League and everyone jumped all over him. He showed what he's about. I have two world-class goalkeepers. I can give them both games. If they do not play, you can't keep two world-class goalkeepers. We have a rule that the keepers know. It's important to have clear rules like that. They know what the rules are for the season.”

Despite conceding a clumsy goal in the first minute, he did incredibly well to recover in the first half. Angel Di Maria’s whipped corner was halfway to making Sportscenter's Top 10 had it not been for Ospina glancing the near-olimpico past the far post.

The performance was not entirely convincing by any means, as Ospina was impulsive coming off the goal line when Nacho Monreal’s error played Cavani through on goal, and lucky that the Uruguayan struck wide left.

After halftime, the Colombian was continually exposed due to sloppy play in front of goal, as the Gunners struggled to take a hold of the game. However, Ospina, channeling some his North London Derby heroics, relentlessly made crucial saves denying PSG’s chances.

Ospina’s inspired performance aside, any unbiased observer would agree that Arsenal did well to grab a point at the Parc des Princes, what many believed to be their toughest game of the group stages.

While Wenger’s decision to start the Colombian paid off, fans will remember his insistence in playing Olivier Giroud towards the end of 2015/16 campaign. Giroud endured a 16-match Premier League goal drought, the second worst of any striker in the league last year. The same can be said about Theo Walcott.

The England international began last season as Arsenal’s first-choice center-forward but faced heavy criticism for his under-par performances, weak finishing, and lack of development over the past ten years. The former teenage sensation, also the club’s longest-serving player, eventually fell behind Danny Welbeck in the pecking order, but only after the latter returned from injury.

Granit Xhaka’s omission from last weekend’s lineup was excused under the assumption that he would start against PSG, but many were left baffled when the pairing of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla made the start.

In fact, Wenger’s inclination to start Coquelin over this summer’s marquee signing is even more strange when one sees his immediate impact as a substitute. Arsenal instantly looked more comfortable against PSG after the Swiss midfielder came on. The French manager seems keen to err on the side of caution when it comes to starting Xhaka, but it’s high time to change that.

By comparison, Shkodran Mustafi’s hurried introduction into the starting XI makes Xhaka’s exclusion all the more confusing; however, that can be chalked up to Wenger’s lack of senior alternatives at the back.

Wenger’s post-match comments from Tuesday strongly suggest that Ospina has already been commissioned to play further Champions League matches, possibly in addition to domestic cup matches, although the boss made sure to clarify that a spot in the Starting XI is earned, not guaranteed.

“We have an in-house rule that the keepers know. It’s important to have clear rules like that. They know what the rules are for the season and, if they change, I’ll tell them,” said Wenger, “It's down to performances. On what [Ospina] delivered, he has the right to stay in the team for the next Champions League game.”

The manager’s masterstroke selection of Ospina will hold him over for some time, but it’s no secret that patience is wearing thin amongst fans.

This weekend’s tie against Hull should see the return of Xhaka, considering Coquelin’s tiring week - though, with Wenger’s recent selections, it seems safer to assume the unexpected.