An unlikely draw in Paris in September gave Arsenal the springboard, a dramatic comeback at Ludogorets kept it on track, now Arsenal will seek to finish the job at home against the French champion on Wednesday.
A victory over Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium would ensure that Arsene Wenger’s side tops its Champions League group for the first time in seven years. In each of the six seasons since, Arsenal has crashed out of the Europe’s premier competition at the first knockout round after getting a group winner in the round of 16.
But Arsenal put itself in a position to change that history this season when securing a draw in the French capital in the first round of fixtures despite being decidedly second best over 90 minutes. Three straight wins have followed, including when coming from 2-0 down at Bulgarian champion Ludogorets three weeks ago, to already confirm progress to the knockout phase. And a victory on Tuesday, giving it the head-to-head advantage over PSG, would now put Arsenal in the enviable position of having guaranteed first place with a game to spare.
“I believe that the two teams have done the job until now every time it was expected.” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “We have done it away from home and now we can finish the job at home, and of course we want to do it. We got a draw there, now it’s just down to us to win the game tomorrow.
“We have done the job until the end in a convincing way. I believe that when you play 1-1 away from home and you play at home it’s a luxury to be qualified after four games. Last year we had to battle until the end and this season we can finish the job after five games and that would mean we have done really well.”
Still without Hector Bellerin, Wenger does expect to have Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott available despite the pair picking up knocks in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United.
In contrast, PSG has been denied one of its regular starters in an incident that has provoked a diplomatic furor. Ivory Coast international Serge Aurier was prevented from entering the United Kingdom after his visa was revoked by authorities. The right-back was handed a two-month suspended jail sentence in September for assaulting a police officer but had a visa was issued on Oct. 18. That was then revoked on Nov. 16, with the club stating it was only notified of a final decision on Tuesday.
PSG, which was backed up by a statement from UEFA, has said it “deplores” the timing of the decision and claimed it displayed “a lack of respect.” The fact that Aurier is appealing the conviction added to PSG’s anger.
“Paris Saint-Germain strongly regrets that the presumption of innocence has not influenced Britain’s decision,” the club said in a statement. “On several occasions, UEFA has also transmitted its total support of Paris Saint-Germain to the British authorities regarding this case, in order to preserve the integrity of its competitions.”
Like Arsenal, PSG has won all three of its group games since the draw on the opening match day. Its form in the French league has improved in recent weeks, too. While the club still finds itself in the unfamiliar position of sitting third in Ligue Un, it has won its last three games to close the gap on surprise leader Nice to three points.
As well as being without Aurier, coach Unai Emery has a fitness doubt over Argentina international Ángel di María.
Prediction: Arsenal was mighty fortunate to escape with a draw in the first match between the sides thanks in large part to a string of missed chances from PSG striker Edinson Cavani. It was a similar story on Saturday, too, when claiming a draw against Manchester United that was arguably unwarranted on the balance of play. Indeed, Arsenal’s performances have suffered since Santi Cazorla went down with an injury last month. And against a PSG side very capable on the break, another draw could be on the cards on Wednesday.
Predicted Score: Arsenal 1-1 Paris Saint-Germain