By Rob Kelly
“You just try to focus on the quality of your game and we have created a momentum, even if we are stuttering a little bit at the moment. We want just to strengthen that momentum again with wins.” – Arsene Wenger
After all the calculations carried out as we embarked on our great escape from last season’s group stage, our position this time around is satisfyingly simple.
The equation is clear: beat Paris Saint-Germain and we secure top spot. The only issue is that our French visitors are in exactly the same position. It makes for a fascinating winner-takes-all contest in the capital.
While Arsene Wenger is certainly motivated by the prospect of finishing at the summit of Group A – a feat that should help us avoid one of Europe’s premier sides in the last-16 – he also wants his team to further mark their progress with another significant scalp.
Having seen off Chelsea so thrillingly at the end of September, the Gunners have been held in their two biggest clashes since – against Tottenham and Manchester United.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (Achilles), Lucas (ankle), Bellerin (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Mertesacker (knee)
PSG: Rabiot (leg), Pastore (knee), Kurzawa (leg), Aurier
A victory against PSG, the moneyed French champions, would prove that the advances they have made this season have not stalled in November, a month that has traditionally proved a challenge.
“It would be important for us to win the group,” Wenger said. “We can win a big game at home and that’s important for us. But the rest, November, December or June - we win football games and we perform. It’s as simple as that.
“When you go on the pitch you don’t look at the calendar and look at what month are we in. You just try to focus on the quality of your game and we have created a momentum, even if we are stuttering a little bit at the moment because we did not win some games. We want just to strengthen that momentum again with wins.
“We want to show that we can beat any style of team. That’s what we have done since the start of the season. We play a team with a different style, a team who play possession, slow and quick.
“We have to show that we can cope with that because they play a lot of possession and then suddenly they play quick with Cavani, Lucas Moura - they can accelerate a game. We have to show we can deal with that style, a different style to what we are used to. In England, we always play with power.”
ONE TO WATCH
Olivier Giroud’s return to form and fitness has left Wenger with a selection conundrum ahead of Wednesday night’s game.
The France international’s stats – he has scored seven goals with his last eight shots on target in the Premier League – certainly make a compelling case for his inclusion against PSG.
Conversely though, some argue that he now represents the perfect ‘Plan B’ option, the sort of substitute who can have a significant impact upon any game – although Wenger does not see it that way.
“No, not really,” the Arsenal manager said. “I only have good players and every week I leave top players on the bench and I rotate a little bit as well.
“Olivier has been out for a long time. He’s ready to compete again now and from game to game it will change a little bit.
“I will make minor rotations but he’s not forever on the bench. He will play games and he will be on the bench sometimes, like everybody else.”
Much of Wenger’s thinking on who to start up front against PSG rests on how he wants to approach the game. Selecting Alexis or Giroud as the central striker will determine much of the attacking approach we take.
“My thinking is that they are different styles of players and that dictates a different style to us as well,” the manager said.
“The shape, the form of the players of the moment, their hunger - it’s a mixture of many ingredients that go through your mind and then you make your decision.
“My job is to select and decide, and that is the same every week.”
For all their undoubted quality, Paris Saint-Germain have certainly not had the easiest of lead-ups to this match.
While Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nantes moved them up to second in Ligue 1, level on points with leaders Monaco, it came at a price.
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Mesut Ozil has scored four and assisted two of our last eight Champions League goals
All three goals that we have conceded in this season’s Champions League have come in the opening 15 minutes
Angel Di Maria, who ended a long scoring drought in the game, limped off with a hamstring injury that makes him a doubt to face us, while the brilliant Javier Pastore also sustained a knock that has ruled him out.
Their problems did not end there either, as flying full back Serge Aurier was turned away as he tried to enter the UK due to the suspended prison sentence he was given in September.
It gives the Parisians plenty to ponder, but Wenger believes they have made progress under new manager Unai Emery since September’s 1-1 draw at the Parc de Princes.
“I think in that game, PSG played their best match of the early part of the season,” the Arsenal manager said. “We weren't on top. We had a great performance from our goalkeeper that kept us in the game.
“But this is the opportunity to show we have progressed. PSG are not always pushed to win their league matches, so it's hard to assess them on that alone, so it's better to draw comparisons on their real potential from their Champions League matches.
“To begin with, Emery tried to find some common ground with the previous playing style and what he was introducing, trying to strike a balance. Between then and now, he's struck that balance.”
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