Wenger wants more than a first round knockout in Champions League

Arsenal kick off their 2016/17 Champions League campaign with the toughest fixture of the group as they face Paris St. Germain in the Parc des Princes tonight.

Arsenal head into their 19th consecutive Champions League campaign tonight with an ignominious record looming over the club: they have lost in the first knockout round for the last six seasons running. It is a record that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is keen to overcome this season. But, to maximize their chances of getting through to the Quarter Finals Arsenal will need to secure top berth in Group A, a division which includes FC Basel, Ludogorets Razgrad, and an injury ravaged (and transfer depleted) Paris St. Germain. It is a group that Arsenal should top quite easily and while a win tonight over PSG is not crucial, it will set them on the right track.

Arsene Wenger is publicly bullish on his team’s chances saying that “this is one of my strongest squads, certainly. And certainly one of the oldest as well. I always believed we had a chance, even when we had young players but, certainly, I haven’t had a squad of players [like this] for a long time; full of players who have enough experience to compete.”

Wenger is confident because he has spent to increase squad depth in key areas. Arsenal spent nearly £100m to bring in midfielder Granit Xhaka, center half Shkodran Mustafi, and highly rated forward Lucas Perez. All three players are automatic starters on many teams across Europe but owing to Arsenal’s depth, Wenger has the luxury of resting players, like Xhaka, in some domestic matches so that they will be fresh for the Champions League.

On the other end of the pitch, PSG sold talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Man U and David Lulz to Chelsea in what looks like an attempt to move toward Financial Fair Play compliance. PSG have also lost Thiago Silva, Serge Aurier, and Javier Pastore to injury though all three could play tonight having made a fist of a comeback over the weekend. PSG are also missing the power of Blaise Matuidi in midfield as he featured heavily for France at Euro 2016 this Summer.

PSG manager Unai Emery is no slouch as a manager. He won the Europa League three consecutive times while at Sevilla and is a cup tie specialist. Typically, his teams tend to play a very defensive set up and rely heavily on a set of defensive-minded center mids. At Sevilla that was Grzegorz Krychowiak and Steven N’Zonzi — a pair that beat Liverpool 3-1 in the final in Basel last Spring.

Here with PSG, Emery has a comity of defensive midfielders to choose from (when healthy): Matuidi, Verratti, Rabiot, Krychowiak, and Thiago Motta can and have all featured in the role so far this season, often with two or even three of them playing at the same time. Most recently against Monaco, Emery played Verratti, Rabiot, and Motta in a midfield three and lost 3-1.

PSG are struggling to find form in Ligue Un so far this season, sitting in 7th place with just 7 points in their first four matches. And having dropped points in their last two matches, fans are already starting to become restless in the Parc des Princes, a sentiment that Arsenal supporters can understand with Arsene under considerable pressure with a similar start to the season.

Wenger is tipped to start Olivier Giroud up front in this match. The French forward has only come off the bench so far this season but has shown some return to form with a diving header on Saturday off a Cazorla cross which nearly found the back of the net. Astride Giroud, Arsene may start new signing Lucas Perez on the left. Conventional wisdom has Wenger playing Alexis Sanchez but with the Chilean also suffering a long Summer of Fifa football we could see Wenger save him as a late sub if needed. On the right, Wenger will probably start Theo Walcott.

In midfield, Arsene is expected to start Granit Xhaka along with Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil. The one tricky question here is what to do with Cazorla. Wenger can’t play him every match and, despite his suggestion of an ultra deep squad, he doesn’t have a natural replacement for the tricky little Spaniard. Aaron Ramsey is a possibility in the shuttling role in midfield though that experiment hasn’t worked well in the past with the Welshman preferring a more advanced role.

In defense, Wenger (unless there is an injury) will start with a settled back line of Bellerin, Mustafi, Cech, Koscielny, and Monreal.

Arsenal’s men will have to be up for the game. PSG are a dangerous team up front with Cavani (who misses a lot of chances, but gets a lot of chances) and Angel di Maria supplying the final ball at speed. Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal also warned of Emery’s tactics and how Arsenal will be tested both in and out of possession. “Playing against them will definitely help us know our real level. On the other hand, PSG’s manager Unai Emery is very well known by our Spanish players and we are aware of how dangerous his teams are. He usually builds strong teams, capable of pressing really intensely or good with ball possession. Our fixture against PSG is going to be a great test for both clubs, but we also have a great squad and I am expecting a great game against them.”

Qq

60 Comments on Wenger wants more than a first round knockout in Champions League

  1. Sounds like PSG are really struggling to find a new identity without Zlatan and under a new coach, and they’ll probably be eager to impress their home fans after a disappointing start to the domestic campaign. It would be tragic to under estimate such a team, full as they are with top talent even without their injured and transferred stars.

    This is a fixture in which Wenger may consider pairing Xhaka and Coquelin for a bit of extra bite and muscle in the middle; this move would favor playing for a goalless draw given Coquelin’s well documented deficiencies in possession. Pushing further forward as he did vs. Saints in the second half to remedy some of these issues will likely be a poisoned chalice against a PSG side with far better forward play than Southampton had. Xhaka – ElNeny is another possibility and would give us better ball circulation but it seems like the Egyptian fell sharply out of favor after his woeful opening day defensive performance against Liverpool. If we actually want to win this fixture then of course Xhaka-Cazorla would be the way to go but as Tim says this would test the little Spaniard’s fitness, and the incremental gain would not outweigh the longer term cost of missing him in other fixtures. The boss may also decide to try Oxlade-Chamberlain through the middle given his struggles out wide lately, and he has performed credibly in such a role in seasons past; however that would be a major surgery to an Arsenal midfield which has more or less functioned pretty well and probably has better options.

    Longer term I still believe our best option through the middle is either Xhaka-Wilshere or Xhaka-Ramsey, but neither is available for this fixture.

  2. Well, Arsene going down the familiar midfield partners and implement decoy tactic again. Last time, it didn’t really work because of the lack of penetrating passes from deep. Hopefully Mustafi have more confidence now, and try more vertical break the first line passes, just like Kos able to do succesfully.

  3. Really, really strange starting eleven for PSG. Would’ve thought Cech and Xhaka would play, Cazorla would get a rest, and Ox would be nowhere near the first eleven after stinking up the place for nigh on a year. I’m sure Wenger believes this team can get a result, but I’m not sure I share his confidence. Ox. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    • And against our strange, lopsided brew, PSG field an incredibly strong team. Wenger is…stupid? Inspired? We’ll soon find out. The Ospina CL gamble backfired spectacularly on Wenger last season at this time.

    • Watch him score now just to spite you 😉

      In all seriousness, while I fully agree he’s been terrible lately, he’s not getting any better sitting on the bench, that’s for sure. Wenger has a long leash for players with big potential, too long at times in the past, thus sparking Guardiola’s jibe about Wilshere being lucky as there is no pressure to win at Arsenal. Well, less pressure than at Barcelona or PSG (lately) that’s for sure. And so, Ox plays because it’s not just about this game, it’s also about the rest of his career. By sitting him we may improve our chances of winning this game (although I’m not completely convinced we have a much better option just now) but we pay the opportunity cost of Ox’s continued stagnation. By playing him we may suffer in the short term but profit later in the season. There is no right answer, just possibilities and considerations.

      • Doc, your post could have been written by Wenger. Let’s sacrifice results in the short term for a future that may or may not come! Opportunity cost? Classic.

        Oh, and btw, Ox was useless and careless again tonight.

        • Bunburyist, Like it or not, that’s the club you support! We are not elite in terms of ability to buy at the top consistently so we have to develop players. This is part of it. The Ox may never come good, but how can we know if we don’t try?

          • Meh. I think we could easily buy a player better than the Ox for relative peanuts. We do not need to be an elite club to upgrade on such a poor player.

          • At what point do you give up on a player entering the prime years of his career? It seems like 4-5 games into the season is much too early. If you don’t believe a player is up to it, you have to sell him. We kept him, so let’s see what he can do. It’s frustrating now but everyone knows he’s capable of much better. He can’t show it if he doesn’t play.

          • No, we probably kept Mat Debuchy for that reason, and he’s been nowhere close to the first team. By contrast, Ox has started every game. The manager clearly believes in him, for better or worse.

        • Ox is fucking tragic. Really. I’ve seen him play. He was one of the best players I’ve ever seen on the ball. I don’t know what happened to him.

          • If you were away from writing for a year it might take you a few blogs before you regain your sharpness, wouldn’t it? If I was away from medicine for a year, I’d be way behind not just the evidence but I’d have to rediscover my workflow, reacquaint myself with the system, find my touch with the patients again and work every day to improve quickness and efficiency. Sound familiar? Not saying he will definitely get there but it’s no stretch to imagine he will improve.

    • Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly has photos of Wenger en flagrante.

      Look, I’ve been wrong about Wenger’s faith in a player before. Ramsey came good in spectacular fashion. Ox looks to me a Mack truck with legs, but clearly his coach sees something I/we don’t.

  4. Underestimate PSG at your own peril.

    Also, line up is Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Cazorla, Coquelin, Iwobi, Özil, Ox, Alexis.

  5. Just as I was about to write that Cavani is the calibre of striker a club of our size and resources should attempt to sign, he goes and scores.

    Brave selection by Wenger, though. I hope it works. We’ll see in a couple of hours. Will he make half-time subs if things are not working out, or his customary 65 minutes? We’ll know soon.

    BYW, no issues with Ospina’s selection. It’s the late in life attempted conversion of Sanchez that baffles, and the selection of Coquelin over Xhaka shows a lack of ambition.

  6. That was disastrous. Not one player is playing like they have a clue. Giveaways, indecision, over elaboration, players (Iwobi, Ox) not covering the opposing FBs, etc, etc.

  7. Take off the Ox, bring on Giroud, tell Iwobi play some defense, bring on Xhaka, and take off Coquelin before he picks up a second yellow.

  8. I don’t understand our opening line up. Can someone smarter than me explain that opening BS because now we are playing for real.

  9. Gee. Isn’t that funny, Wenger? You put players in their proper positions, and things work out better! Genius. I can’t understand why he f**ks with the line-up like that. We’ve played so much better with Alexis out wide, Giroud in the middle, and the Ox nowhere near the field of play.

  10. That was as bad of a first half as I’ve seen Arsenal play. No cohesion on or off the ball. Added to that, PSG won more duels too. The closing down was lackadaisical and incoherent, the off the ball movement was one dimensional and mistimed. Should’ve been down by more than one goal. In the second half PSG sat back a bit more while we pushed our line higher. This resulted in improved combination play and allowed us to force a few transitions in their half which saw us come back into the game. However it also meant leaving the defenders 1 v1 and neither Mustafi or Koscielny were effective in those situations against Cavani, who was strong and determined but really should’ve won the game for PSG with the chances he had. Also we had real issues tracking Aurier who made the first goal and probably should’ve contributed to at least one more. Iwobi is just not alive to those runs yet and effective switches were not coordinated until the second half; even then, Monreal had real issues with his speed and power. Gunners once again finding it’s better to be lucky than good, but will the luck run out? We have to find our stride soon and it’s just not happening with the combination of players who started the first half.

    I’ll put in my now customary plug for playing Xhaka from the start, yet again.

  11. OK, strange selection, and a disastrous start. But can someone explain to me what the game I saw was about tactically.

    Was it just that PSG ran out of steam? Because we looked like we were overrun and couldn’t compete in that first half (and on the rare occasions we got something going, the Ox or Alexis gave the ball away)

    But we immediately looked much better second half. Even before the subs. We were closing them down better, and seemed to have more time and space.

    Ozil had a poor game. You keep waiting for him to produce that one moment but it never came. Looked tired too.

    Alexis did ok, and then looked a lot better once Giroud came on. A very good finish for the goal too. Hope he’s ok because he was struggling with the kick in his back the last few minutes.

    Iwobi looked good, but maybe needs to improve his understanding with Monreal, and tomorrow he’ll have extra shooting practice.

    Monreal. I don’t know. Maybe Gibbs would have been better for matching up against Aurier. He didn’t do anything really wrong as far as I could tell, but he really struggled.

    Mustafi and Kos partnership needs some work. Letting Cavani run through on goal all those times wasn’t great. Getting caught too close together a couple of times as well. Thankfully, Cavani hasn’t been an elite striker since his Napoli days. I didn’t think Bellerin had a good game either.

    I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but we missed Walcott. With him instead of Ox, I think we would have been more effective. Ox must be really close to losing his place. Maybe in the latter part of the season someone like Jeff or even Akpom could take his spot.

    What happened with Giroud and Veratti? The initial bit seemed much ado about nothing with both falling over. (I first thought Giroud initiated that, but on replay it looked like Veratti did) What happened after that? And did Giroud receive a straight red? I thought his first yellow was reminiscent of Dinamo Zagreb last season where he allowed himself to get into it with the ref, and was thinking, surely he won’t do anything stupid again.

    Speaking of the ref, it appeared to me that he was letting PSG get away with a bit more than us. A bit of a home performance, but nothing too drastic.

    • to be fair, Ozil was the one who supplied the pass to Iwobi whose shot was saved by the keeper & the subsequent shot by Sanchez went in. But by his high standards, he was poor, and like you said, a little tired.
      I think Giroud is unlucky. Saw this on gunnerblog that Marquinos pushes Giroud and so falls into Verrati and then Veratti reacts. Giroud gets pushed again by Marquinhos.

  12. Lastly, Ospina. Caused a bit of a panic early with Cavani missing that chance, and his height causes some issues on corners etc. But boy did he justify his selection. Big saves and good reading of the game. Man of the match.

    A bit lucky to draw the game, but not by too much in the end. That first half though…

  13. Diabolical first half. WTF are we doing? No, really.

    We must thank Cavani for doing his best Arsenal striker imitation. Had he finished any of those chances we would have gone home with our tails between our legs.

    In the end Ospina saved us a point and Alexis did finally score a peach of a goal.

    Glad we escaped that but it’s hard to watch this Arsenal squad right now.

  14. I only watched the first half (I have the second half waiting for me on tape) but I see that we were able to pull out a lucky win despite another slow start.

    Budding narratives for the season:

    1. Slow starting Arsenal
    2. Wenger tinkering with lineups
    3. Xhaka can, but Wenger can’t
    4. The last huzzah
    5. Can’t create
    6. Can’t seem to play in any formation
    7. Good bye Elneny
    8. Adios Wilshere
    9. The death of the English core

  15. 10. All our best players get crocked.
    11. Wenger refuses to “do” tactics.
    12. Alexis and Oil refuse to sign da ting.
    13. Trump wins the US presidential election.
    14. Trump as president triggers the apocalypse and
    15. Life’s a butch and then you die.
    16. But we’lol always have The Invincibles.

  16. Life is a bitch and then you die. Learned that one with out of work pulp Mill workers in New Brunswick, Canada.

  17. PSG managed to out-Arsenal us. They should’ve been 3-4 nil up and out of sight by halftime. The funny thing is Wenger tried to do tactics. He set the team out to press PSG and we were so shitty at it, that we caused our own problems. Our closing down in the first wave was poor, and the gaps in the second line of the press were huge. PSG easily broke our pressure, and when they did, there were acres of space for them to run into straight into our back four. The only reason we got a foothold into the game in the second half was because Emery had them back off and defend deeper and counterattack us. I won’t criticize that strategy because they still got some great opportunities and only superb shotstopping by Ospina prevented the all important second goal. Ospina earned his entire years salary with that MOTM performance.

    Regarding Cavani, he’s got great stats but I’ve only ever see him play in the Champions League and I have to say I’ve been distinctly unimpressed. He’s missed sitters in every game I’ve seen him play in over the past couple of seasons. He certainly did his best Shane Long impression this game. As much as Ospina kept us in this game, can anyone imagine Suarez, Lewandowski, Aguero, Griezeman, let alone Ronaldo, or Messi missing those chances?

    Finally, I can’t even complain that Emery got his tactics over Wenger right. Our pressing structure was so poor PSG didn’t have to do anything special to beat it. Tactics depend on execution and we were simply poor at our press. It almost looked as if Wenger decided to press yesterday and then drew it up on the chalkboard today and sent the team out there.

  18. PSG managed to out-Arsenal us. They should’ve been 3-4 nil up and out of sight by halftime. The funny thing is Wenger tried to do tactics. He set the team out to press PSG and we were so shitty at it, that we caused our own problems. Our closing down in the first wave was poor, and the gaps in the second line of the press were huge. PSG easily broke our pressure, and when they did, there were acres of space for them to run into straight into our back four. The only reason we got a foothold into the game in the second half was because Emery had them back off and defend deeper and counterattack us. I won’t criticize that strategy because they still got some great opportunities and only superb shotstopping by Ospina prevented the all important second goal. Ospina earned his entire years salary with that MOTM performance.

    Regarding Cavani, he’s got great stats but I’ve only ever see him play in the Champions League and I have to say I’ve been distinctly unimpressed. He’s missed sitters in every game I’ve seen him play in over the past couple of seasons. He certainly did his best Shane Long impression this game. As much as Ospina kept us in this game, can anyone imagine Suarez, Lewandowski, Aguero, Griezeman, let alone Ronaldo, or Messi missing those chances?

    Finally, I can’t even complain that Emery got his tactics over Wenger right. Our pressing structure was so poor PSG didn’t have to do anything special to beat it. Tactics depend on execution and we were simply poor at our press. It almost looked as if Wenger decided to press yesterday and then drew it up on the chalkboard today and sent the team out there.

  19. PSG managed to out-Arsenal us. They should’ve been 3-4 nil up and out of sight by halftime. The funny thing is Wenger tried to do tactics. He set the team out to press PSG and we were so shitty at it, that we caused our own problems. Our closing down in the first wave was poor, and the gaps in the second line of the press were huge. PSG easily broke our pressure, and when they did, there were acres of space for them to run into straight into our back four. The only reason we got a foothold into the game in the second half was because Emery had them back off and defend deeper and counterattack us. I won’t criticize that strategy because they still got some great opportunities and only superb shotstopping by Ospina prevented the all important second goal. Ospina earned his entire years salary with that MOTM performance.

    Regarding Cavani, he’s got great stats but I’ve only ever see him play in the Champions League and I have to say I’ve been distinctly unimpressed. He’s missed sitters in every game I’ve seen him play in over the past couple of seasons. He certainly did his best Shane Long impression this game. As much as Ospina kept us in this game, can anyone imagine Suarez, Lewandowski, Aguero, Griezeman, let alone Ronaldo, or Messi missing those chances?

    Finally, I can’t even complain that Emery got his tactics over Wenger right. Our pressing structure was so poor PSG didn’t have to do anything special to beat it. Tactics depend on execution and we were simply poor at our press. It almost looked as if Wenger decided to press yesterday and then drew it up on the chalkboard today and sent the team out there.

    • I don’t know why all of your replies are automatically spammed. Maybe the email address you use is something that is a spam email company? I don’t know.

  20. Everyone who begged – BEGGED – for Wenger to buy Cavani look at that today. Thank God he’s shit. He is definitely worse than Giroud.

    That said, why the manager decides to run with Plan “C” of Sanchez as striker when faced with a world-class pairing of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos at CB, and after he’s got a healthy Giroud and a recently purchased Perez? It’s fucking insanity. Ospina was OK, but there again, play Ospina on the weekend if you want to get him games, don’t give him the start, away, against the strongest opponent in your group.

    Ozil was shit for most of the game. I get the sense Ozil sometimes that Ozil is disheartened before the whistle even blows – he’s played for Low, Mourinho, Ancelotti (briefly)… maybe he knows when his team is unprepared.

    What a joke. We got lucky. Really lucky.

  21. Aurier played like a man with something to prove. Perhaps we did show interest in him at one point. Anyway, he tore Montreal several new ones all night. BTW, what pitiful attempt to block a cross from the Spanish left back. All of our defenders have this cowardly technique of half0-turning and meekly dangling leg. If you’s blocking shot, block a shot. Montreal looks increasingly like another player we need to upgrade on. The team, the squad, is filled with stuff of not that great quality.

    Giroud was being manhandled and grappled with all night by his defender. Under the new premier league directive, Arsenal should have had penalty.

    Im not going to quibble about the point. We’ve been in PSG’s shoes too many times for me to give a flying toss. As I said at the start of the game, no quibbles with Ospina. He’s a high quality goalkeeper with one of the top 10 national football teams in the world. Ox a puzzle. Sanchez not a CF. Brave selection. Nearly backfired, but we got out of jail.

  22. We are still waiting for Özil to show up for us this season.
    Sanchez is clearly ready, willing and able.
    What does it say about our wings when we actually are looking forward to Walcott in the lineup over the Ox who year in and year out gives away the ball, whose touch isn’t great and has no end product.

    • Ozil’s pass essentially created the equaliser. He, along with everyone (bar Ospina) was poor. But I’m pleased with the point – and surely so much credit for that goes to Ozil.

      It’s wrong headed (and yet frustratingly predictable) to single him out for criticism in this game.

      • True. At least he has the moments in him and he did try to find space between the lines.

        So disappointed with the Ox, yet another game where he could not hold his own. He seems to be lacking the hunger to do well.

    • 1. Ozil was pretty handy against Watford (and has had his moments in other games, e.g. the pass before the goal last night).
      2. Speak for yourself: I never look forward to Walcott in the lineup.

  23. Aurier had a good game because Ox had such a bad one. I really really don’t know why we started Coq over Xhaka, defensive solidity? Then why force Coq to push so high, plus the difference in form means Xhaka is the better option in any scenario anyway.

    It just seems to me Wenger experimented with something and it actually went so badly that you wonder what the fuck he was thinking. Fuck the 1-1, that should have been a hammering. I don’t feel like excusing Wenger because cavani can’t finish his dinner. Unless Wenger actually knew that would be the case, bet all in on it, and got the draw and nearly snatched a win. Guess we’ll just have to wait for that biography.

    Again, huge Wenger fan, delighted with the squad, but utterly baffled by both the management of the team and the selections. Early days though, and not horrendous results, so its time to be patient and see.

    • Look, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that the Ox had a good game (he had a terrible one), but he can’t be entirely, or even mostly, to blame for Aurier playing so well when half the time the Ox was playing on the other side of the field! Iwobi was equally culpable of failing to track back, and he was on our left for a significant portion of the game. Neither of them gave Monreal enough cover, plus Aurier is quite good.

  24. This is weird. After, what can be called a decent result, people still seem to be very upset. Yes, the team did not play well but PSG was very good. Veratti was absolutely brilliant in the first half. Accept it..
    Also Cavani cannot be that bad. His movement was brilliant. Specifically the way he continued to bisect the central defenders was great. His timing for the runs excellent. I think ADM had a worse game. His timing on counters were really bad….

  25. It’s times like these ill err on the side of positive, if only for the sake of my own peace of mind.

    If we were playing well but losing I’d focus on the playing well part. At the moment were playing poorly but picking up points so ill focus on the points.

    I’ve wondered why we never gave Sanchez a proper run as our middle striker so I can’t in honestly give Arsene stick for giving him a chance there.

    I didn’t feel fully comfortable with Ospina in goal but his performance certainly justified the decision to start him.

    I don’t know why Xhaka isn’t starting. Maybe his form in training hasn’t been good but it does seem like we’re a better team at the moment with him on the pitch.

    • I can only venture that it’s to do with chemistry. We’re in a state of flux right now with changes up front as Giroud recovers and Perez gets integrated, with Alexis playing up there. And at the back with Mustafi and Kos forming a new partnership.

      My guess is Wenger feels incorporating Xhaka at this stage ahead of Coquelin would be too much. He got starts at Leicester and Watford where we probably weren’t expected to defend as much, and also before Mustafi was playing.

      Another factor could be that Xhaka is seen as being a better partner for Ramsey rather than Cazorla.

      He’s appeared in all games bar Southampton so it’s not like he’s being frozen out. I think it’s just a matter of time.

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