PARIS — Arsenal recovered from a nightmare start to salvage a 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain after Alexis Sanchez scored a late equalizer in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.
The Chile forward converted a rare chance for the unimpressive visitors with 12 minutes left in the Group A match, after Edinson Cavani had scored PSG’s opener with just 44 seconds on the clock.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s unexpected decision to give a starting nod to David Ospina in goal at the expense of Petr Cech also paid off, with the Colombian keeper making a string of decisive saves to keep his team afloat.
Sanchez scored from a rebound against the run of the play after PSG keeper Alphonse Areola parried Alex Iwobi’s powerful shot, sparing the Gunners a third consecutive loss in their opening game in the competition.
“We were in trouble in the first half, they pressed well, were fast on the counterattack, were determined and played aggressively,” Wenger said. “When you start so badly against a team with such qualities, If you have no experience you can be caught. But we did not panic, we showed resilience, and it’s linked to experience. Overall it’s a good point.”
After two disappointing outings in the French league, PSG produced its most complete performance of the season. But despite solid defending and inspired attacking moves, the four-time defending French champions were made to pay for their profligacy.
After scoring PSG’s opener, Cavani missed three clear-cut chances in a one-sided match at the Parc des Princes. PSG coach Unai Emery, who replaced Laurent Blanc during the summer, was disappointed by the result but said he was pleased by his players’ spirited display.
“Hopefully it won’t be our best performance this season, because I’ve seen team with a soul,” he said. “Building a squad is difficult. We can still improve and learn how to control our emotions on the pitch. But tonight’s game could be a reference for the future.”
On a warm Parisian evening, tempers frayed toward the end and both teams finished with 10 players after Arsenal substitute Olivier Giroud and PSG’s Marco Verratti were sent off following an altercation that earned both players their second yellow cards of the game.
Playing with pace, PSG easily won the midfield battle and was in complete control until Sanchez’s equalizer.
In addition to Ospina’s saves, Giroud’s entry in the 63rd minute also helped the Gunners to finally settle down after the visitors’ calamitous start, conceding on PSG’s first move after Angel Di Maria found Serge Aurier down the right flank. The defender, who was a constant threat with his precise crosses and sudden accelerations, crossed the ball into the box for the unmarked Cavani. He headed it home at the near post to score his 13th Champions League goal.
With PSG playing high up the pitch, Arsenal was under constant pressure from Cavani, Di Maria and Verratti, ending the first half without a single shot on target.
PSG came close to extending its lead in the 13th minute but Ospina tipped a direct corner from Di Maria over the bar, while Arsenal had to wait until the 23rd before creating its first decent chance following a good move from Nacho Monreal down the left.
Overrun in midfield, the Gunners almost conceded in the 34th after a deflected ball ended in Cavani’s path. The Uruguay forward expertly rounded Ospina but lost his balance and missed the target in front of an open goal. Arsenal defenders were again exposed soon after as Cavani beat the offside trap to connect with Di Maria’s lofted ball into the box, only to waste another golden chance with a poor finish.
The second half was more even but Arsenal kept struggling to get past PSG’s well-disciplined rearguard.
Cavani failed to make the most of another chance in the 70th after a lucky rebound off a defender, losing his one-on-one with Ospina, who saved brilliantly three minutes later to deny Di Maria’s powerful shot.
Wenger hinted that Ospina could be elevated to No. 1 keeper during the Champions League campaign.
“Ospina was very good,” he said. “He showed his doubters that he is a great keeper. Last year he made a mistake when I started him in the Champions League. Today he set the record straight.”
In a nervy finish, Arsenal had another good chance soon after Sanchez’s equalizer but Iwobi’s effort at goal was too weak to surprise Areola. Marquinhos then almost snatched a win for PSG in added time, but his header flew wide.