Ozil's wonder-goal completes Gunners fightback
Ludogorets 2 Arsenal 3
Published 02/11/2016 | 02:30
Arsenal's place in the last 16 of the Champions League is secure for a 17th consecutive season but, perhaps even more important to Arsene Wenger, is that they have also taken a giant step towards qualifying as group winners.
From the position of 2-0 down after only 15 minutes, Wenger will also be delighted at how his team first clawed their way back and then secured a highly unlikely victory with a sublime Mesut Ozil goal.
The winner arrived in the 87th minute and was Ozil's seventh goal already this season. His most previously in a season with either Arsenal or Real Madrid is 10. Paris Saint-Germain's late win away to Basel means they are also now certain to advance with Arsenal to the knockout phase but Wenger's team will have home advantage for what is likely to be the group decider at the Emirates later this month.
Although it was a home tie, Ludogorets had endured longer travelling time on Monday than Arsenal in a six-hour coach journey from Razgrad to Sofia in order to stage the match in Bulgaria's national stadium. However, those who travelled soon had plenty to cheer.
Granit Xhaka had been guilty of a handball inside Arsenal's own half and the curling free-kick was brilliantly placed between goalkeeper David Ospina and his back four. Ospina should really have advanced to smother the danger but remained on his line to allow Jonathan Cafu to open the scoring.
It was then soon 2-0. Arsenal had again been on the front foot, only carelessly to present their hosts with a chance. Carl Jenkinson lost possession deep inside Ludogorets's half but the counter-attack was rapid, with Cafu released down the right and skilfully evading Gibbs's attempted tackle before crossing for Claudiu Keseru to score. Having conceding only one goal in their previous five Champions League group games, Arsenal had been beaten twice in 180 seconds.
At the other end, Olivier Giroud's ability to link up Arsenal's passing is easily underestimated and he provided the assist for Xhaka to finish emphatically following a late run into the area.
There was still no let-up in the end-to-end nature of the game and, by the stroke of half-time, Arsenal had managed to undo their largely self-inflicted earlier damage. Ramsey had shown his usual energy in running into a wide position and his subsequent cross was met by Giroud, whose header was directed past Borjan.
Arsenal were immediately back in full control of possession when the match resumed but were frustrated.
Alexis Sanchez had a clear sight of goal with a free-kick but his shot was deflected over before Ludogorets - and specifically Cafu - gave another reminder of their counter-attacking threat to force an Ospina save.
With Wenger trying carefully to manage Aaron Ramsey's comeback, he made his first change in the 75th minute by introducing the added attacking pace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Mohamed Elneny was also brought on and, while he might have been signed for his defensive qualities, he showed his vision to release Ozil.
The German playmaker has added a very definite goal threat to his game this season and, after flicking the ball over Borjan, he showed wonderful poise to delay his finish and then skilfully evade attempted clearances from two Ludogorets defenders before side-footing the ball into an empty net. (© Daily Telegraph, London)