Arsenal fall short in making the statement Arsene Wenger desired
Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain last night is likely to result in a second placed finish in their Uefa Champions League group.
The Gunners are now reliant on the French champions dropping points at home to Ludogorets in the final round of fixtures on Tuesday 6th December.
Arsenal travel to Switzerland to take on Basel in their final fixture the same night.
With qualification already secured before last night’s match the teams were playing to decide top spot in the group and a potentially easier last 16 tie.
That Arsenal have exited at the last 16 stage of the competition for the past six seasons gave the match an extra edge.
The majority of times after a second place group finish, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich each seeing off the Gunners twice in that six season run.
Arsene Wenger had stated before the match that winning against a big team would help his team make a statement and lay down a marker for the knock-out stages of the competition.
Unfortunately, Arsenal were second best for the majority of last night night’s contest.
Although he scored in both matches, Edison Cavani’s poor finishing last night and in the earlier match in Paris helped the Gunners to draw both games despite being comprehensively outplayed each time.
Arsenal are unbeaten in all competitions since the defeat to Liverpool in the opening weekend of the Premier League in August.
That shows the team have a resilience to battle against adversity, which has been missing at crucial times in recent seasons.
Last night though some of the familiar failings were on show, particularly defensively. Arsenal were opened up easily down the right side of their defence by one simple through ball. It allowed Matuidi to set up Cavani for the simplest of chances.
Whilst PSG’s equaliser came from a corner. Where Arsenal’s zonal marking system broke down in allowing the smallest player on the pitch Lucas a free header. Alex Iwobi was unlucky that the ball deflected off his head and into the net.
But using a zonal marking system means that your defensive players are having to jump from a standing position and as happened last night gives an advantage to even the smallest of attacking players.
Arsenal had been warned of PSG’s threat from corners in the first half, when they were saved from conceding a goal by a goal-line clearance from Kieran Gibbs.
Big matches are often decided by fine margins and defensive frailties from set-pieces will be capitalised on at his level.
On a positive note Arsenal have once again qualified for the last 16.
They have done so every season in the Champions League’s current format, which has been in existence since 2003-04.
Other teams can only dream of that level of consistency.
The challenge now for Arsene Wenger, and the team, is whether they can overcome their last 16 hoodoo and progress to the latter stages of the competition.
Whether they can or not is likely to be decisive in deciding Arsene Wenger’s future. And whether Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozl commit to new contracts.
For Wenger another last 16 exit – against whatever calibre of opponent – would be another indication that he has perhaps reached the glass ceiling in being able to take the team forward in the Champions League.
Before the Champions League knock-out stages resume in mid-February, Arsenal will be also be looking to have maintained a Premier League title challenge that has faltered with three draws in the last four matches.
The Gunners are only three points behind the leaders Chelsea, but November has again so far proved to be a difficult month.
Maintaining a title challenge is likely to be the other decisive factor in determining Wenger’s future.
Some fans would argue that he has to win either the Premier League or the Champions League to earn a new contract.
The board may not take that view though.
After last night’s match, Wenger had this to say at his post-match press conference.