Arsene Wenger’s side had recovered from being a goal down to lead with 13 minutes to go, only to concede from a corner with the qualification group as good as won for the first time in five seasons.
They still go through, of course, and will avoid many of Europe’s other big guns who have failed to triumph at the qualifying stage.
But they were desperate to finish top this season.
Now they need to win their final game in Basle next month and hope rank outsiders Ludogorets score an upset by avoiding defeat away to PSG.
Few stranger things have happened in football, so it is no wonder the Arsenal players looked so dejected at the final whistle last night.
Reflecting on last night’s events, Wenger said: “You have to consider two things. The intensity we put in and the result. We gave a lot tonight and we came back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 and then gave away an own goal. But we played a good side.
“We had good spells in the game but we could not dominate. Tonight my concern is that we were 2-1 up and allowed them to come back at us. It’s difficult to understand how easy we gave away a goal at a corner.
“We lack something in our creativity but we got a point. It might not be enough but you never know.”
Just as in the first game away to PSG, Arsenal were second best for long spells of the match, a fact indicated when Kieran Gibbs cleared off the from PSG captain Thiago Silva early on.
That should have served as a warning to Arsenal, but they still looked lethargic on the ball, none more so than Aaron Ramsey, who’s casual mis-placed pass effectively started PSG’s move to an opening goal after 18 minutes.
The experienced Thiago Motta seized on his chance to release Blaise Matuidi beyond a leaden Shkodran Mustafi and he crossed low to the par post where Edinson Cavani had the easiest of tap-ins from close range.
PSG had the luxury of resting Cavani in their last league clash ahead of this match, while Arsenal were busting a gut trying to salvage a point at Manchester United. It showed towards the end of last night’s encounter as Arsenal battled in vain for a winning goal.
Cavani’s fifth goal of the Champions League season put the visitors in pole position to win the group as they dominated the first half with surprising ease. Some Arsenal fans near the press box in the 59,628 crowd were joking their team were trying to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid as the other second-placed group teams, but most of them were howling their frustrations at an under-performing team.
There were more cries of anger 10 minutes before the break when Francis Coquelin was booked for a foul on Motta and is now suspended for the Basle game.
It was the injured Santi Cazorla, and how Arsenal missed him again, who would normally have taken Arsenal’s 45th minute penalty after Gregorz Krychowiak scythed down Chilean striker Sanchez. The pressure and the responsibility of the of the crucial spot-kick was left all on Olivier Giroud.
The Frenchman, starting only his second match of the season, faced a barrage of abuse from his fellow countryman behind the goal, but he looked calmness personified as he sent Alphonse Areola the wrong way with a low right foot shot to score his fifth goal in as many games.
That should have calmed some nerves on and off the pitch, as it also signalled the end of the first half, but PSG came out just as determined after the break.
And when Laurent Koscielny was booked for a desperate lunge on Lucas Moura it looked like they would regain the lead. The Brazilian loves a dead-ball and he wrapped the crossbar with this 53rd minute effort and Arsenal were rattled once again.
The home fans urged them back into the game, though, and they had a touch of good fortune in taking the lead on the hour with a Marco Verratti own goal. The Italian midfielder could not get out of the way of an attempted clearance from his compatriot Marquinhos and the ball ricocheted into the net.
Now Arsenal had to show they had learned from the mistakes of Champions League games past and either kill the game off or shut up shop. Neither task was as easy as it might sound against a PSG side with equal motivation to win the match and a nervy final half hour ensued.
It got even worse for Arsenal with 13 minutes to go when Alex Iwobi helped a goal-bound Lucas Moura header into his own net from substitute Hatem Ben Arfa’s corner.
Ironically, for Arsenal, Wenger had decided to keep Iwobi on the pitch to help defend the corner as Granit Xhaka eagerly waited to come on as his replacement. That switch was made before the game could restart.
Arsenal remain unbeaten in 18 matches since their opening day defeat at home to Liverpool, but this had the air and ring of a loss in north London.
Ospina 7; Jenkinson 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82, 6), Mustafi 5, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 7; Coquelin 7 (Walcott 80, 6), Ramsey 5; Alexis 7, Ozil 6, Iwobi 5 (Xhaka 77, 6); Giroud 6.
Areola 6;, Meunier 7, T.Silva 6, Marquinhos 5, Maxwell 6; Verratti 6, Krychowiak 5 (Ben Arfa 67, ), Motta 7; Matuidi 7, Cavani 7, Lucas 7.
Felix Brych (Germany) 6/10