PARIS: If this is to be the last season of Arsene Wenger after 20 years at Arsenal, we will always remember the night he went to Paris and picked what looked like the wrong goalkeeper, who turned out to be the right man in the right place at all the right times to help earn his team a draw against the odds. Step forward, David Ospina, an unlikely hero on an occasion that seemed all but certain to end with Arsenal battered into submission by the mighty Paris Saint-Germain but ended with an inquest among the French champions as to why they did not win the game.
Ospina made more than half a dozen saves, in particular from Edinson Cavani, and then Alexis Sanchez plundered an unexpected equaliser. All of this looked extremely improbable when Cavani gave PSG a lead within the first minute and the evidence pointed to Wenger having picked the wrong team. He selected Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi in a midfield that was overrun by PSG, and Ospina was in goal for the first time since April. But as he has so many times in his career, Wenger conjured a result when few gave him much hope.
In the closing stages, the substitute Olivier Giroud was sent off for a second yellow card for a bit of shoving off the ball with Marquinhos that spilled over inexplicably into Marco Verratti also getting a second yellow card from the Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai.
PSG scored after 40 seconds and ten years after Wenger fell short in the Champions League final in Paris you wondered if this might be the bookend for his European career. In other words, a battering from another petro-dollar dynasty team with the old boy himself having tempted fate the night before by saying that this is his most experienced Arsenal team yet.
Outplayed in midfield for the first half, Arsenal were left clinging on yet somehow Cavani, PSG’s goalscorer, conspired to miss an extraordinary number of chances with Ospina the man who simply would not give in. At the end there was still that sense of wonder at the results Arsenal’s veteran French manager pulls off, even as the doubts grow ever stronger about his future. Did Wenger pick the wrong team? It felt like that for long periods, with Granit Xhaka only a second half substitute and Sanchez.
Yet Arsenal left Paris with a point in what is the hardest fixture of Group A and a goalkeeper who has now staked his claim to return to the job-share arrangement he and Petr Cech had at the start of last season. Wenger picked Ospina for the first time since he conceded three away at West Ham in April, an unhappy experience for the Colombian but nothing like as bad as his part in the home defeat to Olympiakos in last season’s Champions League. That was a year ago this month and put an end to Wenger’s policy of using his second choice goalkeeper in Europe.