Wednesday 23rd November 19.45 GMT
Arsenal fans will be hoping that their team’s abject performance against Manchester United at the weekend will be in no way indicative of their performance. The optimistic ones might take it as evidence that Arsenal are saving themselves for this game. Whilst this column is broadly supportive of positive thinking, reality seems to suggest that the Gunners are not quite firing on all cylinders.
Looks can be deceiving
A cursory glance at their form over their last 10 games would suggest otherwise; seven wins, three draws and no losses is not to be sniffed at. However, it’s five games since they’ve managed a clean sheet and their last win in the BPL was three weeks ago against a then bottom-of-the-table Sunderland. November is traditionally the time of the season when Arsenal begin to wobble but Arsene Wenger will be hoping that the mental fortitude he so often ascribes to his team is more than just another paper tiger.
I fought the law and the law won
PSG come into this match shorn of a number of players due to injuries and legal transgressions. Legal transgressions? That’s right. Full-time controversy magnet and occasional right back, Serge Aurier, has been barred from entering the UK for this match. No, it’s not as a result of Brexit. The defender has been charged with elbowing a police officer in Paris. Although Aurier is appealing against his conviction, the UK’s Home Office is not for turning. Unlike the gendarme’s jaw, one would suggest.
Not everything going to plan
His, ahem, complicated character aside, the full back is a good player and his influence will be missed. Joining him in inactivity will be fellow regulars like Adrien Rabiot, Javier Pastore and Angel di Maria. Unusually for PSG, they are not leading Ligue 1 in a season that has probably been more difficult than fans would have expected. Granted they are only three points off the top but it has not been plain sailing for new boss, Unai Emery.
Where did he come from?
Their 2-0 win over Nantes at the weekend was far from convincing. In addition to losing both Pastore and di Maria to injury, the teams performance was lifeless, listless and lacking in intensity. Emery will need key players like Marco Veratti and Blaise Matuidi to up their game and get in amongst the Arsenal midfield. There may even be a sighting of the lesser spotted Hatem Ben Arfa. The Frenchman will be familiar to fans of Newcastle, Hull and watchers of wasted talent. That is unfair given how well Ben Arfa has applied himself since re-establishing himself in Ligue 1, his efforts landing him a plum contract at the French champions.
So what we have before is a couple of very good, evenly-matched teams who aren’t playing very well at the moment. It might even be a dud of a match but the prize dangling between the teams is huge. Both are on 10 points with neither Ludogrets nor Basel in a position to trouble them. Finishing first in the group is something that Arsenal haven’t managed to do in a long time and, as a result, have often wound up facing strong opposition who quickly dispatch them. PSG got to the semi-final last season. Most teams would be happy enough with that outcome but not so the Paris bosses who somewhat haughtily dismissed previous manager, Laurent Blanc. Emery knows what is expected.
Given the injuries the visitors have sustained, it would appear that Arsenal might have something of an advantage in terms of a starting 11. Most of the squad know the pain of finishing second in a qualifying group and the early exit that generally follows. That hurt must be used to make sure they get over the line here and give themselves an excellent chance to finish as group winners. PSG look a bit less coherent at the moment and that might be enough for Arsenal to get the win. Best price there is 11/8 and comes by way of BetVictor.