A first professional hatrick for Mesut Ozil was the highlight of the show as Alexis, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain also net as Arsenal go top of Group A on goal difference at the halfway stage with a ruthless display on Wednesday night.
Arsene Wenger made 4 changes from the side that battled to a victory over Swansea on Saturday. David Ospina resumed his Champions League duties, Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka dropped to the bench and was replaced by Francis Coquelin after his questionable red card on the weekend. Finally, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a much needed run-out with Alex Iwobi rested for greater things. With Aaron Ramsey and Oliver Giroud still sidelined, there was a space on the bench for Lucaz Perez.
Ludogorets, coming into this game in 2nd place domestically, 2 points behind Levski Sofia and taking a maximum 15 points out of their last 5 league games were hoping to get their first, but very unlikely first win in Group A, having already got a creditable point away to Basel but losing 3-1 in Razgrard to PSG. Georgi Dermendzhiev kept an unchanged side from the defeat to the French champions. Up front they went with Club Record Signing Jonathan Cafu, and the ex Sao Paulo man did cause a few nerves for the Arsenal faithful late on in the first half. I was also impressed with Wanderson who was deployed on the left of a midfield trio behind Cafu, before he was withdrawn with 10 minutes remaining by Dermendzhiev.
Arsenal, as you would expect given recent form, came out all guns blazing, forcing a few early out of the Bulgarians who knew already they were in for a long night in North London.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal to take the lead, as with 11 minutes played, Alexis was slotted in by Oxlade-Chamberlain down the Arsenal left, and with Ludogorets playing an outrageously high defensive line, the Chilean was able to beat the offside trap and sprint onto the pass, with Walcott and Ozil both arriving for what looked like a regulation tap-in, Alexis had other ideas has he put Cosmin Moti on the floor before delightfully dinking the ball over Stoyanov who was never getting there to score his second Champions League goal to add to his equaliser in Paris on Matchday 1. This was the start of a long night for the Ludogorets shot-stopper.
Lucas played a first time ball across the face of the goal for Ozil to deliver with a deft touch to lift the ball over Stoyanov who was already on the ground.
Ludogorets, with credit, came with the intention of taking the game to Arsenal, instead of just setting up for damage limitation, and as the first half wore on, and it was still 1-0, there were a couple of heart in mouth moments for Arsenal fans as twice in a matter of minutes Jonathan Cafu was allowed to race through 1 on 1 with David Ospina after a defensive error and misjudgement each from Laurent Koscienly and Shkodran Mustafi, but the Colombian saved both the pair’s blushes and leaving Ludogorets wondering how they weren’t level. Shortly after, in a frantic 5-10 minutes, the Bulgarians struck Ospina’s right hand post, after some neat football on the end of the box, Wanderson’s shot was dragged onto the post via a slight deflection from Koscienly which the referee or any of his assistants didn’t spot.
Possibly, against the run of play, normal service then resumed as Theo Walcott continued his remarkable start to the season. He was found with a lovely cut back from Mesut Ozil finding himself on the Arsenal right, with one touch required to get it out of his feet, the second touch found the back of the net from just outside the box. Once again, questions asked of Stoyanov who really should have done better as the strike was quite central.
HT – ARSENAL 2-0 LUDOGORETS
Whatever Arsene Wenger said at halftime to try and get his men to really put the game to bed evidently worked straight from kick off as Kieran Gibbs’ low ball into the box wasn’t cleared and fell straight to Oxlade-Chamberlain who was ruthless in his side-foot finish past Stoyanov from essentially the penalty spot. 3-0 and no way back now for the Bulgarians who at this point wanted referee Artur Dias Soares to blow the whistle for FT.
After 10 minutes of Arsenal pressure, the fourth goal arrived and the first of 3 for Mesut Ozil, started at the other end from a sensational tackle from skipper Laurent Koscienly on Marcelinho which saw the ball land at the feet of Santi Cazorla who played through Ozil who had the easy job of holding off the last man and sliding the ball under Stoyanov.
The next 15-20 minutes were quieter compared to the previous 70 minutes. Arsenal still dominating the ball and creating chances but Ludogorets were still trying to take the game to Arsenal and were still playing their football. Santi Cazorla was forced off with a slight ankle injury, he was replaced by Mohamed Elneny. Lucas Perez and Alex Iwobi were also introduced soon after Elneny, replacing Walcott and Alexis respectively as Arsene Wenger made all three changes before the 75th minute mark. Claudiu Keseru and Jody Lukoki were introduced for Ludogorets replacing Misidjan and Wanderson.
The last 10 minutes were all about Mesut Ozil, firstly Oxlade-Chamberlain sliding through Lucas Perez down the Arsenal left, a ball which confused the Ludogorets center-back pairing, allowing Lucas to play a first time ball across the face of the goal for Ozil to deliver with a deft touch to lift the ball over Stoyanov who was already on the ground.
Ozil ensured that he would have the matchball three minutes from time, Perez again with the assist. This time down the Arsenal right hand side, Perez chipping it up into the box for Ozil to volley home into the bottom corner via a touch from Stoyanov. Perez once again showed what he can do off the bench, getting two assists in the last 10 minutes.
With only two minutes additional time, there wasn’t time for a seventh and the referee put Ludogorets out of their misery, a very dominant and encouraging night for Arsenal. Next up in Europe is the return leg in Razgrad.
Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscienly, Mustafi, Gibbs, Monreal, Cazorla (Elneny 57), Coquelin, Walcott(Perez 62), Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis (Iwobi 73)
Subs Not Used: Cech, Gabriel, Monreal, Xhaka
Ludogorets: Stoyanov, Minev, Moti, Palomino, Natanael, Abel, Dyajkov, Misidjan (Keseru 69) Marcelinho, Wanderson (Lukoki 80), Cafu
Subs Not Used: Borjan, Plastun, Cicinho, Juninho, Sasha
Harry W, Premier League correspondent, on 23/10/2016 at 12:09
Follow Harry on Twitter @XhakaBros