Arsenal head to France to take on Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday in their Group A opener in the UEFA Champions League.
Arsene Wenger is very confident his side can make a deep run in the UCL this season, despite Arsenal making it out of the group stage for 16 consecutive seasons but falling in the Round of 16 in each of the last six campaigns. Something has to change, right?
[ MORE: UCL last 16 predictions ]
This will be Arsenal’s toughest test in group play as they head to the Parc des Princes to face the expensively assembled PSG who are having some teething problems with new boss Unai Emery in charge.
Here’s a look at three key battles on the pitch which will likely decide the outcome of this game.
Edinson Cavani vs. Laurent Koscielny
Rested at the weekend by Emery, all of the focus is now on Cavani to lead this offense. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic gone, Cavani can no longer complain about playing out wide and not in his natural position as a central striker. “El Matador” has only scored once this season but you get the sense that the Uruguayan forward is ready for battle, especially against a banged up Laurent Koscielny. The French international center back was a doubt for this game after suffering a facial injury late in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Southampton last weekend but he should be fit to battle with Cavani. Koscielny, 31, celebrated his birthday in style on Saturday by scoring a stunning bicycle kick as he captained Arsenal to success. There’s no doubting that Koscielny delivers a calming influence on the pitch and reads the game superbly but he must strike up an immediate partnership with new signing Shkodran Mustafi (he made his debut on Saturday) if the Gunners are going to shut PSG out in Paris.
Thiago Motta vs. Mesut Ozil
This will be key. We all know Mesut Ozil is a wizard on the ball when it gets a few yards of space and Motta’s job will be as much to shut down the passing lanes as much as to get on top of Ozil every time he has the ball. Arsenal’s German playmaker was at his best last season and his ability to find pockets of space to slot in Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and midfield runners is second to none. If Motta gives him space early, Ozil will run riot. Motta’s positional sense is excellent and that’s why it will be intriguing to see if Ozil starts centrally or out wide. The German may get more joy by starting out wide and then cutting in because Motta is a master and locking down the space in front of PSG’s back four.
Angel di Maria vs. Hector Bellerin
The trickery of Di Maria against the pace of Bellerin will be an intriguing battle down Arsenal’s right flank. Di Maria looked at home in France last season, weaving his way past opponents on the left flank and cutting inside to score stunning goals like this. Bellerin is one of the fastest full backs around and has developed into a right back who can support in attack. However, there are some question marks about his defending at times with the young Spaniard caught out by Leicester City a few weeks back as he was lucky to not give away a penalty kick late in the game. Bellerin will have to be at his best to stop the slippery Di Maria.