PSG 1 Arsenal 1: Arsene Wenger surprised Group A favourites Paris St Germain before kick off by selecting a second-rate starting line-up.
And then the Arsenal manager stunned his fellow Frenchmen by pulling off a shock draw against all the odds, in Paris.
Wenger’s first stunt was to axe No.1 keeper Petr Cech for David Ospina, just as he did when the same call backfired at the start of last year’s Champions League.
He also left striker Olivier Giroud on the bench to go in without a recognised front man with tiny Alexis Sanchez leading the line alone.
But it was Ospina who emerged as Arsenal’s star player, despite going behind to an Edinson Cavani goal after only 42 seconds, and fellow South American Sanchez who really vindicated Wenger’s tactics by scoring a late equaliser.
Had Cavani maintained his form PSG could have won this game by half-time, but Arsenal held their nerve and despite being second best overall even came close to nicking all three points when Alex Iwobi had a late shot well saved by Alphonse Areola.
Laurent Koscielny, captaining Arsenal on his first match back at the Parc Des Princes since representing France in the final of Euro 2016, said afterwards: “It was a good point. We came here with the ambition for three points, but when you start like that it is difficult to come back. But we tried to play good football, as did they, and only a poor final ball made it harder for us to score. PSG are a big team and that is a good point for us in the group stage.”
The central defender did not duck from the fact that Arsenal were very poor for the first half, however, and added: “I don’t know what happened at the start. We slept, as we did against Southampton at the weekend, and we need to change that for the future and be strong from the first minute to the last.
“Sanchez played well to score at the end and it was a good game. We are happy to come away with one point.”
Arsenal lost both opening group games last season with Colombian Ospina blundering in a landmark low home defeat by Greek outsiders Olympiacos.
So, you could almost hear the shock among the Arsenal fans on a sultry Paris night when it was announced Cech was back on the bench against the a PSG side that had lost only one of their 39 games in Europe and had not been beaten at home for nearly a year and a half.
And the sighs soon turned to groans when Arsenal were a goal down inside the first minute.
Man of the match right-back Serge Aurier surged down the right flank and whipped a cross towards the corner of the six-yard box, where summer signing Shkodran Mustafi was guilty of ball watching. That left Ospina stranded and Cavani free to glance in a well-timed header into the bottom right had corner of his net.
Arsenal could hardly lay a boot on the ball and with no Giroud to lead the line they had no outlet for the ball on the rare occasions they were in possession.
Only sub-standard finishing from Cavani and the odd good stop from Ospina kept Arsenal’s feint hopes alive going into the second half.
Wenger pulled another surprise by not making any changes to his side at half-time with the game crying out for the introduction of Giroud and Xhaka Wenger did neither and Arsenal were improved as the french struggled to maintain their first half cut and thrust.
That said, Angel Di Maria should have scored when put clean through almost ten minutes after the restart. But the former Manchester United man decided to dive when put under pressure from Monreal and the chance was gone.
The first change finally came when Giroud came on for the below par Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with half an hour to go.
Wenger’s big summer signing, the defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka, came on for Francis Coquelin not long after and Arsenal began to resemble the shape many thought they might have started with.
But PSG still carved their way through when they stepped up the pace and Ospina was not found lacking as he made a couple of good stops to emerge as one of their key men on the night.
Arsenal’s determination and perseverance finally paid off with 13 minutes to go when Sanchez fired home after an Iwobi shot had been blocked following good work from Mesut Ozil.
PSG briefly flapped and could have won it, but that would have been taking things too far when a point was a pretty cheeky outcome as it was.
The match ended in mystery and controversy when the otherwise solid Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai sent off both Giroud and the relentlessly impressive Verratti with their second yellow cards as they tussled off the ball.
It is not the first time Giroud’s poor temperament has let him and his team-mates down in big occasions so clearly Wenger knew what he was doing all along.
Areola 6; Aurier 9 (Meunier 84, 6), Marquinhos 7, Thiago Silva 6, Maxwell 7; Verratti 8, Krychowiak 6 (Pastore 79, 6), Rabiot 6 (Thiago Motta 74, 6); Di Maria 7, Cavani 6, Matuidi 6. Subs: Trapp, Kimpembe, Lucas Moura, Pastore, Meunier, Jese.
Ospina 8; Bellerin 6, Mustafi 5, Koscielny 6, Monreal 7; Coquelin 5 (Xhaka 71, ), Cazorla 6; Iwobi 6, Ozil 6 (Elneny 84, 6), Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Giroud 63, 4); Sanchez 5. Subs: Cech, Gibbs, Lucas Perez, Holding.
Viktor Kassai (Hungary) 6/10
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