Just before kick-off here at The Emirates they showed on the big screens highlights of an Arsenal victory from yesteryear when they hammered Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 in the Champions League. One of the goals back in 2002 was a delightfully sexy chip by Dennis Bergkamp. Perhaps Alexis Sanchez was watching.
The Chilean produced a similar moment of audaciousness to set the ball rolling for Arsenal on Tuesday night as he brilliantly chipped his side into a 12th minute lead in their 6-0 win over the Bulgarian champions Ludogrets.
Mesut Ozil then picked up the baton, scoring a second-half hat-trick – his first in senior football - as Arsenal won with ease. Ozil and Sanchez have requested fatter salaries on their next contracts which expire in 18 months’ time and their positions can only have been strengthened with the Chilean’s flash of genius and the German’s finishing. Dick Law, Arsenal parsimonious money man, may even have rolled his eyes as the goals rattled in.
But if the Gunners want to recreate the Bergkamp era keeping Sanchez and Ozil at the club is paramount.
Theo Walcott added a beauty from outside the box – yes, outside the box – at the end of the first half, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the third and Ozil added the next three. It was the Gunners seventh straight win and they now have seven points from their three Group games. A victory in Bulgaria in their next fixture will all but ensure progression to the knockout stages.
Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that was pushed by Swansea at the weekend. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has questioned his future at the club due to a lack of starts, came in on the left (the manager trying to keep him sweet, perhaps?), Kieran Gibbs, another young Englishman starved of opportunities of late, replaced Nacho Monreal, who was torn apart by Modou Barrow on Saturday, at left-back and David Ospina donned the Champions League gloves again.
But it was Ludogrets who started brightly with Jonathan Cafu, their Brazilian striker, forcing Francis Coquelin to intercept a dangerous cross in his own area after Walcott had given the ball away.
It was not to last. Arsenal were quickly into their neat, passing stride with Ozil finding space in the box but drilling his cross too near to the goalkeeper after a neat turn. It was a sign of things to come.
In the 10th minute, Walcott was in on goal after a ricochet but crossed when he might have shot given his rich goal-scoring form – for club not country – of late. But two minutes later Arsenal were ahead through Sanchez’s moment of magic. The Chilean beat the Ludogrets’ offside trap to hare after Oxlade-Chamberlain’s through-ball down the inside left channel, cut inside the full-back Yordan Minev, putting him on his bottom in the process, before scooping his right-footed finish over the helpless Vladislav Stoyanov in the Bulgarian goal.
Wanderson almost equalised for Ludogrets against the run of play on 20 minutes when he found space down the right. His drilled effort was powerful but straight at Ospina.
On 30 minutes Arsenal should have doubled their lead when Sanchez returned the favour to Oxlade-Chamberlain down the left but the winger’s square ball was unforgivably not square enough and eluded Walcott charging in at the back post.
But Ludogrets, who were only founded a year before Bergkamp’s goal, were about more than just damage limitation and three minutes later Ospina had to intercept a pass through the gaping hole between Arsenal’s centre-backs. The ball rebounded to Wanderson whose shot flicked the outside of the post.
With both teams intent on attacking – and Ludogrets playing a foolishly high line - the game was entertainingly open and Walcott found himself in again. His drive from the edge of the area was beaten away by Stoyanov though.
He was not to be denied just before the break though. Ozil found space on the left and with the defence retreating pulled his cross back for Walcott loitering outside the box. Some in the crowd murmured “shoot” – more in jest than expectation – but the winger, with his new-found confidence soaring, bent a delicious right foot strike inside the near post.
It took Arsenal just 90 seconds of the second half to add a third. Gibbs escaped down the left, his cross was half cleared and Oxlade-Chamberlain placed his right-footed finish into the bottom corner.
On 55 minutes Arsenal had four after Laurent Koscielny snuffed out a Ludogrets attack with a well-timed tackle. The ball broke to Santi Cazorla and the little Spaniard lofted a pitching wedge of a pass over the defence for Ozil to take in his stride with aplomb before slotting home.
With the job done, Arsenal made changes – Sanchez looked annoyed at coming off (he loves playing so much he probably had a kick-about in the garden when he got home) – but Ozil still found space to turn in Lucas Perez’s cross from the left with eight minutes to go. He rounded the evening off with a controlled left-foot volley from another Lucas pass. He can add another zero to the wage request now.
In 2002, by the way, Arsenal did the Double…
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Cazorla (Elneny 56), Coquelin; Walcott (Lucas Perez 61), Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanchez (Iwobi). Substitutes not used: Cech, Gabriel, Monreal, Xhaka.
Ludogrets (4-2-3-1): Stoyanov; Minev, Moti, Palomino, Natanael; Dyakov, Abel; Wanderson (Lukoki 80), Marcelinho, Misidjan (Keseru 68); Cafu. Substitutes not used: Borjan, Cicinho, Sasha, Quixada, Plastun.
Referee: Artur Dias (Por).
Star Men: Ozil and Sanchez.
Attendance: 59,944Reuse content