Six of the best for Arsenal as they rout Ludogorets
Mesut Özil scores second half hat-trick at the Emirates
Mesut Ozil scored a late brace as Arsenal thrashed ludogorets at the Emirates. Photograph: Reuters
Arsenal 6 Ludogorets 0
Arsenal’s progress, at home and abroad, remains utterly serene. It says everything about this thrashing of Ludogorets Razgrad that Arsène Wenger’s side did not have to be at their upbeat best to inflict it upon opponents whose defensive resistance started shakily and disintegrated entirely thereafter. A seventh successive victory in all competitions, and their most emphatic win of the campaign to date, already leaves the Londoners eyeing up the knockout phase.
In the context of Ludogorets’ pitiful fragility, Arsenal were not even threatened by the odd pang of anxiety endured by their own back-line. There was no real need for concern to be had with markers as lax and error-prone as this. The ease at which the substitute Lucas Pérez bustled down the left touchline on to the excellent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass seven minutes from time rather summed it up. Centre-halves were drawn towards the ball, leaving Mesut Özil untracked and alone in the centre. His finish was dispatched with glee. The German would be celebrating his first senior hat-trick before the end, with this a mismatch.
The hosts had actually anticipated an awkward contest. Ludogorets may not be leading the Bulgarian top-flight at present and remain unfancied in this section, but they have shrewdly tapped the South American market for forward-thinking talent and offered up plenty of attacking enterprise, albeit with a complete lack of streetwise snarl at their core. Their defending was largely calamitous but, rather than seeking to stifle, they actively encouraged a frantic, open contest that was thrillingly stretched at times. Ludogorets created enough opportunities in the opening period to have retired at the break comfortably ahead. As it was they were blunted by a mixture of profligacy and David Ospina’s excellence and, against one of the form teams in English football, were undone by Arsenal’s own brilliance.
Alexis Sánchez’s opener had actually been pilfered from his team’s fourth chance in as many minutes, the others having been frittered away as team-mates opted to pass when a shot was on or with the visitors’ overworked defence somehow summoning a block. They had actually been seeking to mount a counterattack when Shkodran Mustafi reclaimed possession for the hosts and Oxlade-Chamberlain slipped the Chilean free of Cosmin Moti. Sánchez waited for the centre-half to slide in before checking inside and chipping a glorious shot over a jittery Vladislav Stoyanov and into the far corner. The finish was a thing of beauty.
Theo Walcott’s seventh goal in his last six appearances for Arsenal, whipped in emphatically from outside the area after he had been permitted time to weigh up his options from Mesut Özil’s pass, would offer the hosts some welcome security. Ludogorets never came to terms with his slippery energy. Yet, in reality, this had never been quite the same stroll enjoyed here against Basel last month. The half-hour between Arsenal rewards had been distinctly uncomfortable, with the home side panicked by the pace and invention of Virgil Misidjan, Wanderson and Jonathan Cafu, all supplied by Marcelinho’s subtle prompting.
Ospina, his form resplendent in this competition to date this term, was outstanding in thwarting Misidjan at his near-post, and both Cafu and the Dutchman again at his feet. When the goalkeeper was beaten, Wanderson’s shot clipped the outside of the post but, too often, the centre of the home side’s defence was sprung by apparently straightforward passes from deep-lying midfield.
Therein lay cause for concern, for all that Ludogorets’ generosity at the other end never made their own real recovery likely. Sure enough, Kieran Gibbs’s centre immediately after the break was only touched out of the six-yard by José Luis Palomino and Oxlade-Chamberlain, unmarked just inside the area, crisply converted a third.
This was the winger’s first start in a month and an occasion to relish, though all of Arsenal’s attacking players sensed blood. Nothing better illustrated the ramshackle nature of Ludogorets’ defending than the hosts’ fourth, born of Laurent Koscielny’s fine last ditch tackle to deny Marcelinho at one end, a long pass from Santi Cazorla beyond Moti which Mesut Özil collected beautifully, and a graceful finish beyond a mess of a goalkeeper.
They would try their best to outdo their shoddiness before the end, their lack of defensive cohesion embarrassing. Pérez had provided Özil’s second and would repeat the trick for the World Cup winner’s third, this time delivering from the right for the playmaker to bury a left-footed volley at the near-post. Even Özil’s celebrations were rather sheepish, but he had cause to delight with this uncharted territory. Arsenal continue to prove irresistible.