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Arsenal Through to the Last 16 for the 17th Consecutive Time

Olivier Giroud v Ludogorets

Ludogorets 2-3 Arsenal

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

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.

Sayonara.

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Ludogorets Razgrad Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

Image result for ozil goal ludogorets

Following the successful outing at the Stadium of Light, all focus would be moved to the much-anticipated North London Derby this weekend but there is the business of the Champions League to attend to. Ludogorets came to town a fortnight ago and received a whopping before returning to Bulgaria. It wasn’t all peaches and cream for the Gunners that day, as David Ospina had to be alert to make some brilliant saves but the team’s attacking play was brilliant and they capitalized on the visitor’s frailties to record a rather embarrassing scoreline.

With PSG getting a favorable result against Basel, the Gunners know that victory will be the only option tonight if they still want to finish the group in pole position. Thanks to the smashing of Ludogorets two weeks ago, the club’s goal difference in the group stands at +8, which is superior to PSG’s +5. It’s also worth noting that a victory tonight will send Arsenal to the Champions League knockout stages for the 17th consecutive season.

Wenger considers tonight’s game as a ‘big game’ and despite looking as the top placed finish as his prime target, he still wants to qualify first. He has to ensure the players put their feet on the ground as well, because complacency can become a very big issue in games like these.

Since that thumping Ludogorets received at the Emirates, they have scored 13 goals in their last three league games, including a 5-3 win over FK Dunav, with Claudiu Keseru bagging himself a hat-trick. Apparently, Keseru played alongside Olivier Giroud back in 2009 for Tours FC. Arsenal has to be mindful of the Romanian forward that has scored 13 goals this season and Giroud expressed his happiness in seeing his former teammate doing well.

To team news, Wenger has confirmed the absence of Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin. Apparently, young Hector suffered a knock in training, so he has been left behind to recuperate ahead of this weekend’s game. Carl Jenkinson and Matt Debuchy, but he didn’t confirm if Jenks was going to get the nod ahead of the elder Frenchman. We would also expect to see David Ospina return to the goal posts, as the certified Champions League goalkeeper.

Injury Updates

Arsenal: Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck (knee), Santi Cazorla (Achilles tendon), Chuba Akpom (back), Lucas Perez (ankle), Theo Walcott (hamstring – doubt), Nacho Monreal (muscle – doubt), Hector Bellerin (knock – doubt)

Ludogorets: None

Arsenal Form

  • Last Five Games: W W D W W
  • Last Result: Sunderland 1-4 Arsenal
  • Leading Goalscorer: Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez (8)

Ludogorets Form

  • Last Five Games: W L W W W
  • Last Result: FK Dunav 3-5 Ludogorets
  • Leading Goalscorer: Claudiu Keseru (13)

Predicted Lineups

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Xhaka, Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Iwobi; Sanchez

Ludogorets (4-2-3-1): Borjan; Natanael, Palomino, Motl, Minev; Anicet, Dyakov; Wanderson, Marcelinho, Jonathan; Keseru

Gooner Daily predicts a 4 – 0 Arsenal win.

Sayonara.

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Ozil on Fire as Arsenal Destroy Ludogorets

Image result for ozil ludogorets

Arsenal 6-0 Ludogorets

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

Since that disappointing opening day defeat to Liverpool in August, Arsenal had gone 10 games unbeaten with eight wins on the trot. The new-look formation has come to stay but one of the major improvements has been the introduction of Shkodran Mustafi to the side, and he has forged such a great understanding with the team’s leader on the pitch, Laurent Koscielny. This new look side has played so many games together but the manager hinted that he would rotate the side a bit without changing the core of the team. This paved the way for Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The visitors had earned a point on their last European travel to Switzerland, so they were brewing with some sort of confidence, and their passing play was quite impressive but Arsenal hit them on the break and the opening goal was a thing of sheer beauty. Sanchez sprang through on goal, left a defender for dead, noticed the goalie was off his line and he executed a delicious chip Carlos Vela would have been proud of. The away side responded to the setback with some good attacking play but the Gunners had David Ospina to thank for a flurry of good saves. Just before the break, Arsenal doubled their money from the man on fire, Theo Walcott. After receiving a pass from Mesut Ozil on the edge of the box, the Englishman swerved in a curler that beat the goalie before smashing the back of the net. His confidence is sky high at the moment and he’s getting everything he deserves from his outstanding play this season.

The Gunners went into the break in high spirits and didn’t take their foot off the pedal. At the restart, they made it three when the Ox latched onto a loose ball to sidefoot it beyond the hapless goalie. Then we tuned into the Mesut Ozil show. The first came from a brilliantly executed counter attack that saw the German break the offside trap and he used his right foot to place the ball past the goalie. Wenger summoned new boy, Lucas Perez, to replace Walcott, and he fed the German with two key passes that led to his first hat-trick in Arsenal colors. For the first assist, Lucas raced onto a loose ball and teed up Ozil with a one-time drilled effort, allowing the German to show off his technique by blasting the ball which skidded off the surface before beating the goalie. The final goal of the game was from more great work from Lucas and Ozil was there again to fire the ball home.

The German tried to return the favor to Lucas but they weren’t in the same wavelength. Besides the goals, there were some outstanding performers on the night. Francis Coquelin had a stormer, with 93% pass accuracy, 54 passes, eight tackles won, six interceptions and one block. The ‘Kostafi’ combination was all shades of awesome, and David Ospina showed why Wenger favors him over Petr Cech in this competition. In three Champions League games, Ospina has kept two clean sheets and he had to earn those shut outs because his goal was well under threat on some certain occasions.

At this stage last season, Arsenal had played 12 games and scored a meager 15 goals. This term, Arsene Wenger’s men have 32 goals in the same amount of games. The team is firing on all cylinders and this sentiment was shared by Mustafi. Credit has to go to Arsene Wenger for finding a formula that has worked brilliantly for him. Rotating the squad was a good move to keep the players fresh and I would expect an overhaul for the Reading game after the team hosts Middlesbrough over the weekend.

With PSG beating Basel, Arsenal will need to keep piling up the victories to ensure they finish their group phase campaign in top place. Till then, let’s bask in the euphoria of such another resounding and satisfying victory.

Sayonara.

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