Arsenal will make a late decision on whether to start striker Olivier Giroud against Paris Saint-Germain as they begin their 19th successive Champions League campaign on Tuesday, manager Arsene Wenger said.
Giroud has made just two appearances as a substitute for Arsenal this season and would relish the chance to be involved in the city where he last appeared for France in their Euro 2016 final defeat by Portugal.
The 29-year-old played an important role on Saturday, coming on to draw the foul from Southampton defender Jose Fonte that allowed Santi Cazorla to score Arsenal’s last-minute penalty and secure a 2-1 Premier League win.
Giroud seems likely to spearhead the attack in Paris but Wenger, who has presided over all of Arsenal’s Champions League campaigns, was guarded about his line-up.
“I have not decided that,” he told a news conference on Monday. “The players do not know the team. I have 24 hours. Is he ready to start? He is close.”
Wenger added that Laurent Koscielny is in contention to start despite getting a kick in the face on Saturday.
“He has recovered quite well,” said Wenger, who is expected to pair the 31-year-old France international with new signing Shkodran Mustafi, who plays for Germany, in central defence.
Arsenal will look for more momentum than last year when they lost their opening two games before scrambling out of their group. But Wenger rejected the notion that victory was essential against probably their most dangerous group opponents.
“For us this is an important match, but there is no symbolic desire to win. We want to play well and win,” he said. “Last year we were second because Bayern were in front of us. Bayern were more consistent.”
Wenger knows that winning Group A, and securing an easier draw, is the best way to improve Arsenal’s record of elimination at the last 16 stage in the past six seasons.
“I think that PSG are very strong in midfield. The game will be won or lost there. Better than all my speeches is the way we play… We are used to the intensity of the Champions League.”
The French side can call on Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi in midfield, while Arsenal have the likes of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil.
PSG come into this year’s campaign in a state of transition having replaced manager Laurent Blanc with Unai Emery, largely for his experience in European competition with Sevilla.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose goals saw PSG reach four consecutive Champions League quarterfinals, has also departed along with the versatile Brazil defender David Luiz.
In their absence, the French champions have had an unusually rocky start to the domestic campaign with a defeat by AS Monaco followed by a 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne last week leaving them seventh in the Ligue 1 standings after four games.
Thiago Silva is likely to return to PSG’s defence with the hosts looking to the invention of Angel Di Maria to create openings up front. But they have injury doubts over Javier Pastore, Maxwell and Layvin Kurzawa.