Arsenal Through to the Last 16 for the 17th Consecutive Time
Ludogorets 2-3 Arsenal
With the North London derby coming up in the weekend, I expected the manager to shuffle up a few things and he did just that with Olivier Giroud retaining his place in attack following his two goal haul against Sunderland, pushing Alexis Sanchez to the left wing. I was somewhat surprised to see Aaron Ramsey back on the right wing ahead of the Ox. Granit Xhaka, fresh from his three game domestic suspension, returned to central midfield alongside Francis Coquelin, and the deputy fullbacks retained their places in the team.
However, there wasn’t going to be any clean sheet for David Ospina as a fairly routine Wanderson set piece evaded the entire Arsenal defense and was converted by Jonathan Cafu with Ospina rooted to the spot. That was certainly against the run of play and I expected the Gunners to respond but it was the hosts that doubled their money just three minutes after opening the scoring. Jonathan Cafu turned Kieran Gibbs inside out before drilling a ball that was tapped in by Giroud’s former Tours FC teammate, Claudiu Keseru.
At 2-0 down, the players needed to rally themselves up to come up with the goods because there was this fear of Paris St. Germain defeating FC Basel in Switzerland. The Gunners continued to push on and got back in the game when Mesut Ozil went to the byline and squared the ball to Giroud’s path but the Frenchman miscued the ball. Xhaka arrived late in the box and sidefooted the ball home to reduce the deficit. I had also learned that it was Ozil’s 200th assist which is a truly magnificent feat. This is a guy that started playing professional football in 2006.
The Xhaka goal set the wind on Arsenal’s sails and they got the equalizer before the break when Ramsey lofted a sumptuous ball that was headed beyond the goalie by Giroud. He has always been renowned for his aerial prowess and it was good to see the Frenchman scoring his third goal in two games.
The second half didn’t have as much goalmouth action like the previous 45 minutes but Ludogorets had the clearer chances and Ospina had to make himself big to quell the threat they posed. However, the contest was settled with two minutes to spare with a goal of the topmost quality…
Composure is one attribute many footballers don’t possess so it makes this goal really awesome. Many forwards in world football would have blasted the ball in, after shimming past the goalie, but Ozil had the audacity to make mince meat of the shot stopper before destroying the two center backs that thought they’d make themselves heroes with the mindset of blocking the ball. Credit should also go to Giroud for anticipating the ball deep in his half and Mohamed Elneny that sent the German clean on goal with basically his first touch.
With PSG earning a late win against Basel, the match between Arsenal and the Parisiens in a fortnight will be one hell of a contest with first place guaranteed for the match winner. This game had an orgasmic end to it for Arsenal fans but going two goals down was a major concern. We would usually sweep some niggling issues under the carpet after a victory but I was a bit concerned with having Ramsey back on the right wing and I’m hoping this wouldn’t continue as the season progresses. I know he’s a fantastic footballer and a huge asset to the squad but Arsene Wenger had found a formula that has seen him go 15 games unbeaten. It would be a shame to see the shape of the team disrupted as Ramsey kept moving infield, leaving Carl Jenkinson exposed. Yes, I was happy for the assist, which was a brilliant carefully-weighted effort to Giroud but if we want to continue in this trend, what would happen to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that have been in such fine form.
In the end, it’s the manager that makes the decisions and we would have to wait till Sunday to see the squad he would come up with.
Till then, let’s revel in the fact that Arsenal has consecutively qualified to the Champions League Round of 16 since 1999. A truly magnificent feat.
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