Josh Mart takes the opportunity to preview Paris Saint Germain’s opening Champions League game of the 16/17 season with English giants Arsenal. PSG were drawn into Group A with Arsenal, Swiss champions FC Basel and Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad.
It has been a summer of significant changes in almost every department for PSG, with Laurent Blanc replaced with former Sevilla manager and Europa League expert Unai Emery. The PSG fans love affair with Zlatan Ibrahimovic also came to an end, when the talismanic Swede decided to leave the French capital for pastures new, reuniting with old boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester Utd.
The summer dealings on and off the pitch have left many wondering if this has been the worst window since the arrival of the Qatar Investment Authority in 2011. Unai Emery will be under immense pressure to succeed in Europe, something which his predecessor ultimately failed to achieve during his tenure.
Les Parisiens have started the season fairly poorly by all accounts, as they currently sit 7th in Ligue 1, having only won 1 of their last 3 games. Friday’s 1-1 draw with St Etienne has only added to the frustration in the French capital.
PSG seem to be missing a spark after a very tumultuous summer in which key players left and other such as Blaise Matuidi have openly stated that they were ready to leave the club. A good start in the Champions League would give Emery the platform and the confidence he and the players need to succeed this campaign.
Arsenal, for the long part, also had a tricky summer. Going into the new season, the ever fiscal Arsene Wenger had only added one marquee signing (Granit Xhaka) and left the Gunners extremely short for the opening day defeat at home to Liverpool.
Arsenal have since strengthened though, and have spent quite heavily on Lucas Perez from Deportivo La Coruna and Shkodoran Mustafi from Valencia. The north London outfit have won their last two games, including a dramatic late 2-1 win against Southampton at the Emirates on Saturday. Wenger will be eager to start well in the group stages, and try and take Arsenal past the round of 16 stage for the first time since 2010.
Team News and Tactics
Unai Emery has much to ponder ahead of this one, as key players who have left the club haven’t really been replaced. Furthermore, Layvin Kurzawa has been ruled out of this game through injury.
With this in mind, I expect the hosts to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Aurier potentially coming into the side to replace Kurzawa. If Thiago Silva is fit though, he could return alongside Marquinhos which could see Kimpembe shift to left back.
The strength of PSG’s midfield is still clear to see, and one would expect Verratti, Thiago Motta and Matuidi to start, although Krychowiak could come in to sure things up somewhat. The front 3 is likely to consist of Cavani who will be flanked by Di Maria and one of Lucas or Jese.
Arsene Wenger admitted in his press conference ahead of this match at the Parc des Princes that he is unsure of his starting 11 amidst rumours that Giroud could return to the team.
With this in mind, I expect Arsenal to lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cech the ever present between the sticks. Koscielny will partner Mustafi at centre half, with Bellerin and Monreal likely to get the nod as the full backs.
Xhaka could make his first Champions League appearance for the club alongside Coquelin in the deep midfield positions. I would expect Alexis Sanchez to start up top, based on reports from our colleagues in France, with Alex Iwobi possibly on the left and Walcott on the right of the advanced trio. This leaves the majestic Ozil to play behind.
Marco Verratti (PSG) – Despite losing several important players over the summer, PSG managed to keep hold of one of the best in Marco Verratti. The little Italian is such a vital part of this PSG team, his tenacity, passing and superb appetite for the game make him someone you would much rather have amongst your ranks than against. Wenger has stated that it is important for the Arsenal midfield to prevet Verratti and co from feeding the forwards as quickly as possible.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Alexis Sanchez has been a superb signing for the Gunners since joining from Barcelona. Nothing seems to faze him and his pace and power are such a key aspect of Arsenal’s play. His tireless running and work rate compliments Ozil’s finesse perfectly.
I normally find it very difficult to predict anything other than a home win for PSG in the Champions League but tonight I am not so sure. Its early days for Unai Emery and he doesn’t seem to have found that winning formula yet.
Arsenal, on their day, are a very good side and I think Wenger will be quietly confident of picking up a precious 3 points here. PSG need someone to step up in the absence of Zlatan, and Cavani really needs to after a horror show of misses against Metz earlier in the season seem to have really shot his confidence.
Prediction: PSG 1-2 Arsenal