Ozil showed great composure in the closing minutes to lead Arsenal to a 3-2 victory over Ludogorets on Tuesday. The Gunners kept the top spot in Group A of the Champions League as they qualified for the knockout phase of the lucrative European competition for the 14th straight season.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com
The club’s website claimed it was the 17th straight season, but a quick look in the archives shows that Arsenal did not reach the knockout phase in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons after finishing third in the second group stage when the competition had a different format.
- The Gunners can win their group
Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are level on points but the Gunners have a better goal difference. Since both teams drew 1-1 in September, it means Arsenal would finish first with a victory over the French club in three weeks. A draw at the Emirates could also be enough if the score is 0-0 or 1-1 (assuming the Gunners beat Basel while the Parisians defeat Ludogorets in December). However, PSG would snatch the top spot with a 2-2 draw because of the away goal rule.
- You need 100% in the Champions League
The Gunners probably thought they had a lot of maneuvering room in Bulgaria after thrashing Ludogorets 6-0 two weeks ago. Unfortunately, they were punished for missing 5% of focus and commitment by conceding two goals in the first 15 minutes. They should have remembered the 2-1 loss to Dinamo Zagreb last season.
- What the fans pay for
If you are a neutral football fan, you usually go to the stadium to watch great players and beautiful goals. Ozil’s overall performance on Tuesday was definitely worth the admission price. His winning goal was pure class. Ozil beat the offside trap in the 88th minute to collect a long ball from Elneny. Clean through on goal, Ozil froze time by lifting the ball over the goalkeeper and cutting inside two defenders before slotting into an empty net.
Ozil could have opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Coquelin played him in, but the Germany playmaker could only muster a tame shot straight at Borjan. He also led the team with 4 key passes, setting up Xhaka for Arsenal’s first goal in the 20th and finding the Ox in the 84th for a first-time effort that could have been the winner but missed the target.
- Sanchez’s off day
The Chile forward started on the left wing for the first time this season. Sanchez had made all his starts in the centerforward position before Tuesday’s game, but Giroud’s inclusion in the starting lineup meant that Sanchez had to shift back to the position where he played in his first two seasons at the club.
It was a night to forget for Sanchez, who missed the target with his two goal attempts and had 5 turnovers according to whoscored.com. His worst moment was when he chased a through ball from Xhaka in the 73rd. Sanchez’s poor first touch allowed Borjan to gather the ball. Somehow, Sanchez still managed to make 3 key passes despite a poor game by his standards.
- Wenger has a lot of faith in Ramsey
Ramsey looked so rusty in his short cameo against Sunderland last weekend that I never assumed the manager would start him in a Champions League game. Yet, Ramsey got the nod over Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi, who are both sharper physically than the Wales midfielder.
Let’s give Ramsey some credit for making the cross for Giroud’s equalizer in the 42nd and having 3 successful dribbles out of 5 according to Squawka. However, I thought Ramsey was a liability in the team’s passing game. Before the Ox replaced him in the 75th, Ramsey made 74 passes (trailing only Mustafi) but only one was a key pass. I believe Ramsey is a bigger threat with his runs than when he carries the ball. His lack of match fitness showed as none of his three goal attempts was on target.
- Mustafi’s poor performance
The Germany international had his first poor game at the club. Winning duels inside the area is the top priority for any centerback. Unfortunately, Mustafi lost two key duels that led to goals for Ludogorets. Cafu beat Mustafi to the ball to volley home a free kick in the 12th. Three minutes later, Mustafi was not tight enough to Keseru, who made a run in behind Koscielny to convert a cross from Cafu. Mustafi won only 1 of 5 tackles according to Squawka and 28.6% of his duels, the lowest percentage among the defenders according to the club’s website.
- Ospina must improve his command of the area
The Colombia goalkeeper prevented Ludogorets from taking the lead in the second half by stopping Wanderson’s low drive in the 64th and denying him in the 66th. But he also proved shaky on two corners in the first half. Did Ospina’s lack of authority make his teammates nervous on set pieces? Ludogorets could have equalized from a corner in stoppage time, but Marcelinho got in the way of Palomino’s downward header.
- There’s a reason why Gibbs and Jenkinson are second choices
Jenkinson finished the game with 6 fouls, more than any other player. He especially struggled against Wanderson, who made 3 key passes. Jenkinson was out of position in the 15th when Wanderson led a counterattack for Ludogorets’ second goal. Wanderson picked out Cafu on the opposite flank and the Brazilian forward dribbled past Gibbs to feed Keseru for a tap-in.
Both Arsenal fullbacks were again in trouble in the 66th. Gibbs failed to close down Marcelinho, who had plenty of time to send a ball over the top for Wanderson. Jenkinson failed to cover Mustafi on that play as Wanderson beat the offside trap but was denied by Ospina. Gibbs only won 1 of 4 tackles according to Squawka.
- Wenger has the North London derby on his mind
Bellerin, Monreal, Walcott and Cazorla were left out of the squad. Bellerin, Monreal and Walcott could have played in Bulgaria despite nursing muscle strains. But the manager preferred to look at the bigger picture and did not want to risk any injury so early in the season. In the end, Wenger’s choices paid off with a win over Ludogorets and three players fully fit for Sunday’s North London derby.