Mesut Ozil scored a stunning late goal as a resilient Arsenal came back from 2-0 down to beat Ludogorets Razgrad and reach the Champions League knockout stages.Ozil was a picture of composure as he ran through on goal, chipped the keeper and cut inside two defenders before slotting in from close range for a dramatic winner.
Earlier on, Arsenal’s hopes of a repeat of their 6-0 win in the reverse tie were quickly dispelled when Jonathan Cafu put Ludogorets in front against the run of play by steering in a left-footed volley from a Wanderson free-kick.
Cafu turned provider three minutes later as he jinked past Kieran Gibbs and squared a ball for Claudiu Keseru to turn in as the Bulgarian side shocked the Gunners with a second in a frantic opening.
Granit Xhaka guided in a 15-yard shot from an Ozil cross to pull one back for Arsene Wenger’s side before Olivier Giroud expertly headed in Aaron Ramsey’s clipped cross to equalise.
Arsenal keeper David Ospina twice saved from Wanderson before Ozil secured his side’s progress into the last 16 and extended their unbeaten run to 15 games.
Mesut magic gives Arsenal edge
One of the highlights of Arsenal’s season so far has been the goalscoring form of Ozil. The German playmaker has already taken his tally this season to seven, having scored eight for the Gunners in total last term.
He should have opened the scoring early on when Francis Coquelin played him through on goal, but he struck a tame shot that was easily saved.
Ludogorets punished the miss with two goals, but Ozil then played a key part in Arsenal’s recovery as he gesticulated for his team to increase their effort.
He set up Xhaka for his first Champions League goal and timed his run to perfection to meet Mohamed Elneny’s pass on the way to his goal, adding to his hat-trick in the first game against Ludogorets at the Emirates.
Ozil has now been directly involved in eight goals in his past five games for Arsenal in all competitions, with five goals and three assists.
Ozil’s touchmap shows his influence on Arsenal’s attacking play – he had three shots and made four key passes during the match
Can Gunners maintain resolve?
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his side’s “prime target” was to win Group A in order to avoid playing tougher opposition.
The Gunners have gone out at the first knockout stage of the Champions League in the past six seasons, having last won their group in 2011-12.
Wenger’s side showed vulnerabilities at the back when Ludogorets went on the counter-attack, but they demonstrated spirit and character to recover. This means they could be ready to avoid the capitulations which have marred previous European and Premier League campaigns.
Arsenal’s mental strength will again be tested when they face Tottenham followed by Manchester United in the league before what could be a decider to finish top of Group A when they host Paris St-Germain.
Sanchez and Giroud dilemma for Wenger
The energy and goals of Alexis Sanchez playing as a central striker have proved a major success for Wenger this season.
However, with Giroud returning to fitness and scoring two key goals in Saturday’s top-flight win at Sunderland, Wenger chose to give the Frenchman his first start of the season against Ludogorets with the job of leading the Gunners’ attack.
Sanchez was shifted out to the left wing and, initially, it seemed to reduce the Chile international’s threat as well as Arsenal’s.
But Giroud did score the equaliser and Wenger now has to decide which attacking formation works best for his side in the key games coming up.
What they said:
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger speaking to BBC Radio 5 live: “You wanted Mesut Ozil to take his chance earlier, but in the end he shows he has enough skill to prove he was right.
“I believe the hardest thing is to be consistent at the top level, but hopefully we can now go further [in the competition].
“We need to maintain the quality of our results until the match against Paris St-Germain and then hopefully we will be in a position to finish top of the group.”
The stats you need to know
- Arsenal came from two goals down to win a Champions League match for the first time since September 2009 (also 3-2 against Standard Liege).
- Olivier Giroud has scored five of Arsenal’s past eight goals away from home in the Champions League (each of his past five in the competition have come away from the Emirates).
- Ludogorets scored more than once in a Champions League game for just the second time in their history, with the first instance also coming against an English side (2-2 v Liverpool in November 2014).
- The Gunners have now kept just two clean sheets in their past 10 away games in the Champions League.
- Granit Xhaka netted his first goal in the Champions League on what was his 18th appearance in the competition.
Arsenal are next in action against north-London rivals Tottenham on Sunday at midday. Their two remaining Champions League games are at home to PSG on Wednesday, 23 November and Basel on Tuesday, 6 December.