By Chris Harris at Parc des Princes
Alexis struck 13 minutes from time to earn Arsenal a battling draw in their Champions League opener in Paris.
A goal after just 44 seconds had left the Gunners playing catch-up for most of the game, Edinson Cavani heading Serge Aurier’s cross past David Ospina before some fans had taken their seats.
Cavani should have had more, missing an open goal in the first half, and Ospina kept Arsenal in the game with a string of fine saves after the break.
The visitors kept plugging away and their patience in possession was eventually rewarded when Alex Iwobi’s shot was pushed out by Alphonse Areola and Alexis rifled in the rebound.
Iwobi had a chance to win it but Areola denied him, and in fairness a defeat would have been harsh on PSG.
Nevertheless, a point against the group favourites on their own turf is a fine way to start your European campaign. For Arsene Wenger, this goes down as a happy homecoming - even if it ended with a red card for Olivier Giroud.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsenal fans of a certain age have painful memories of the Parc des Princes. It was here in 1995 that Nayim scored from just inside the Arsenal half to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in the dying seconds of extra time.
You have to go back a further year for the last time Wenger brought a team to PSG. That Monaco game finished 1-1 and, given PSG’s new-found status as France’s footballing powerhouse, a repeat of that scoreline felt perfectly palatable for this year’s Champions League opener.
The Arsenal boss sprung something of a surprise with his team selection, replacing Petr Cech with Ospina. Alexis was back at centre forward in place of Lucas and Iwobi came in for Theo Walcott, who missed this trip with a mild knee problem.
PSG lost their talisman in the summer - Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but they are still stacked with talent. Thiago Silva, Aurier and Maxwell all shrugged off injuries to start in front of a noisy, expectant Parisian crowd.
They were right to be expectant; PSG led after 44 seconds.
The goal was simple in its execution, a sprint and cross from Aurier on the right and a downward header from Cavani, who had stolen a march on Arsenal’s centre backs.
Immediately, the visitors had a storm to weather and they almost went two behind when the cutest of backheels from Angel Di Maria put Adrien Rabiot through. Laurent Koscielny raced across to save the day.
It had been the worst possible start but Arsenal composed themselves and kept a foothold in the match. Led by the tigerish Alexis, they probed away against a PSG side that now looked happy to sit back and play on the break.
Iwobi had a shot deflected behind and, from the resulting corner, Shkodran Mustafi mistimed his header. It was a half-decent chance.
They fashioned a better chance when Iwobi made inroads down the left-hand channel and fed Nacho Monreal, who tricked his way past a challenge before chipping the ball towards Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His header back across goal was dangerous - but dealt with.
The outlook seemed brighter for Arsenal but they had a major let-off when Cavani latched onto Monreal’s touch and went past Ospina on the edge of the box, only to miss the gaping goal. And another chance went begging when Cavani tumbled as he tried to convert Di Maria’s cross.
The pattern was predictable as the second half unfolded: Arsenal moving the ball, looking to dissect the PSG rearguard with quick passing around the box, and the home side sitting deep before springing forward on the counter-attack.
You had to admire PSG’s organisation. They closed off the central areas, forcing the visitors into ever more intricate attempts to prise an opening. So often, encouraging approach play was snuffed out by a well-placed opponent.
The key for Arsenal was to stay in the game and hope for a chance.
It almost came when Alexis found Oxlade-Chamberlain in the box, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on his quickly-taken shot. Then Iwobi ran at the heart of the PSG defence and exchanged passes with Alexis, but Marquinhos slid in to rescue his side.
On came Giroud but the next chance fell to Aurier - and Ospina rushed out to save well. He did even better moments later to thwart Cavani after a lucky bounce took the Uruguayan through on goal, and then denied Di Maria with a flying push over the bar.
The value of those saves were evident 13 minutes from time when Iwobi finally had a clear sight of goal. His shot was parried by Areola but Alexis slammed the rebound into the net.
Ospina denied Cavani again with a brilliant intervention as the striker went round him, but Iwobi had the best chance to win it. Alexis’ pass opened up the PSG defence but Areola plunged to his left to push out Iwobi’s low shot.
The game ended with red cards for Giroud and Verratti after an altercation off the ball, but that shouldn’t taint a job well done for Arsenal.
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