The first round of Champions League football starts on Tuesday, and two of the heavyweights in Europe clash in Paris as a rejuvenated Arsenal pay a visit to a depleted Paris Saint-Germain.
Arsenal’s Premier League campaign was off to a horrid start as they picked up just one point from their opening two matches. However, back to back wins over Watford and Southampton have somewhat steadied the ship and they have some momentum going into this one. Arsenal have often started slow in the Champions League group stages and are left with a lot to do in the final matches. This has not only put them under unnecessary pressure but failing to win their group left them with tough fixtures in the round of 16. They are a considerably stronger side now than they were in the last few seasons and a positive result against PSG could just be the push they need to make the next step. It is vital for the Londoners to start well.
PSG, on the other hand, have made an underwhelming start to their campaign, having picked up just seven points from their opening four fixtures, to be positioned currently at fourth. While they have dominated Ligue 1 for the past four seasons, the departure of talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and £50 million man David Luiz has severely depleted them and look out of sorts.
PSG could never convert their dominance of Ligue 1 into Champions League glory, something which cost former coach Laurent Blanc his job. New manager Unai Emery has marked himself out as a knockout specialist after winning the previous three Europa League titles with Sevilla, and PSG still boast one of the best squads in the Champions League this season.
Arsene Wenger has no new injury concerns for the PSG game. On top of that, Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista has returned to full fitness and he may be available. Gabriel’s availability is a huge boost for Arsenal as he will provide multiple options for Wenger in defense. Long term absentees Danny Welbeck and Per Mertasacker will miss the clash, and so will Aaron Ramsey, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury. The likes of Mustafi and Perez have already made their debuts in the Premier League and are expected to start against PSG as well.
Arsenal will look to attack mostly with Ozil on the ball. Both Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain are quick down the flanks and their crossing is good too. The Gunners will be looking to that trio to feed Giroud up front with balls. Giroud’s strong presence is an added advantage for Arsenal and he is good with headers as well. Arsenal would want to capitalize with the set pieces. Both Mustafi and Koscielny are solid in defense and they would not want to allow any PSG attackers even an extra inch of space.
Lineup (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Cazorla; Sanchez, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud.
Player to watch out for: Mesut Ozil
Whether it be assisting or scoring, this man will always be in the thick of things. Arsenal will look up to him to provide some smooth passes and also taking on opponent defenders. When on song, it can be hard to stop the German. He certainly has to be at his best if Arsenal want to bag all three points.
Unai Emery has a lot of injury concerns for this game. The PSG boss has just three fit defenders and no natural left-back for the match against Arsenal. Serge Aurier, Javier Pastore, Maxwell and the skipper Thiago Silva are already side-lined with injuries, and left-back Layvin Kurzawa also picked up a hamstring injury to pile up PSG’s problems. However, Silva has a slight chance to be fit before the game on Tuesday. Midfielder Thiago Motta is expected to play as a makeshift left-back.
However, the concern for the Paris side going into the Arsenal game is not only the defense. PSG has struggled since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure, and the team looked incapable of scoring a goal at times in recent games. Edinson Cavani was expected to fill the Ibrahimovic void, but he has failed spectacularly so far. New arrival Hatem Ben Arfa has also failed to find the form which made him a wanted man in top European clubs this summer.
Di Maria holds the key for the attacks. He is quick with the ball and can provide good passes as well. Both Ben Arfa and Cavani have to fire though. The pair can wreak havoc on any defense if they are on song. So, they will need to pull their socks up and take on a formidable Arsenal defense. Matuidi, too, should see plenty of the ball. He is a powerful presence in midfield and his surging runs as well as his covering up will come in use against the Gunners. The defense is weakened and so the defenders know there is no room for error for the entire 90 minutes against a dangerous Arsenal attacking lineup.
Lineup (4-3-3): Trapp; Meunier, Silva, Marquinhos, Motta; Matuidi, Verrati, Di Maria; Moura, Cavani, Ben Arfa.
Player to watch out for: Angel di Maria
- PSG have conceded 4 goals in their last 2 matches in all competitions.
- 14 goals have been scored in the last 4 Arsenal matches in all competitions.
- 15 goals have been scored in the last 5 PSG matches in all competitions.
- The last time these two sides met, both teams got on the score sheet. Arsenal ended up winning 2-1.
Prediction: PSG 1 – 2 Arsenal
Arsenal are in comparatively better form right now and could exploit PSG’s defensive weaknesses. The addition of Mustafi has made them stronger at the back. Arsenal have the momentum and the quality to win this one.