Given the context of Ludogorets’ pitiful fragility, as Wenger acknowledged, Arsenal could brush off the odd pang of anxiety endured by their own backline. There was no cause for concern when contending with marking as lax as this and, in Vladislav Stoyanov, a goalkeeper whose confidence was shattered from the outset. Özil made all three of his rewards appear simple when lesser mortals might have snatched at the opportunities. “It looks like he has the taste for goals,” Wenger said. “We wanted him to be a provider and a scorer but, before, he only liked to provide. He’s slowly moving towards that better balance.”
The more games he plays against defending this cataclysmic the faster that process will be accelerated. The Bulgarians, deflated at finding themselves trailing by two at the interval when they had actually created enough chances to lead, might as well have retired at the break, so pathetic was their second-half showing.
It was the naivety of their approach, all high-line defending and obliging parting of the ways, which took the breath away. While the attacking verve offered by Wanderson, Jonathan Cafu, Virgil Misidjan and Marcelinho made the game seem a contest for a while – even that enterprise was undermined by profligacy and stifled by David Ospina’s brilliance – Georgi Dermendzhiev’s side never showed the solidity on which to prosper.
In the end their lively pursuit of parity after Alexis Sánchez’s deliciously chipped early opener felt like a distant memory. They had been swatted aside, dismissed by Arsenal’s new-found self-belief and the scintillating attacking play which has so illuminated their domestic form of late. Theo Walcott is a player revived, his emphatically converted goal from Özil’s pass here a seventh in six games for the club and arguably the key strike of the night given the way Ludogorets seemed to give up from then on in. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on his first start for a month, was integral to much of the home side’s vibrant approach and belted the third goal in the opening exchange of the second period after José Luis Palomino’s panicked prod from Kieran Gibbs’s centre. Thereafter Özil took control.
This was uncharted territory for a World Cup winner who had never managed to score three times in a senior game, though even his celebrations were rather sheepish given the lack of resistance he encountered en route to claiming the match ball. His first had stemmed from a Ludogorets opportunity, Laurent Koscielny diving in superbly to thwart Marcelinho in front of goal with Santi Cazorla then floating a pass from deep which cut out the visitors’ entire ramshackle rearguard. Özil’s first touch beyond Cosmin Moti was a thing of beauty, his finish slid gracefully beyond the hapless Stoyanov.
The substitute Lucas Pérez would provide his other two, from left and right flanks, with the Bulgarians long since frazzled. Their centre-halves had been drawn to the Spaniard seven minutes from time, mystifyingly leaving Özil unnoticed and alone in the centre. The third was dispatched expertly on the volley, left-footed, at Stoyanov’s near post.
“The more goals we scored, the better we actually defended,” offered Wenger, who had hauled off Sánchez before the end after the Chilean took a knock on his achilles tendon. “Let’s not be too quick on the verdict. We have a strong squad and a strong spirit but you have to take care of it and keep your feet on the ground.
“We have to credit David Ospina because in the first half he saved us twice with important saves. But we have a good balance at the moment in the team. Maybe our final ball is better, or our finishing is better, but for sure we are scoring more goals. We play a risky game, so it’s important we take our chances. But at the moment confidence is high and we’re maybe getting through dodgy periods with less psychological damage. Now let’s continue to score goals and get these lapses of concentration from our game.”
Tougher tests than this lie ahead, even if this group is eventually claimed ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, and those flurries of defensive angst, when Shkodran Mustafi and Koscielny suddenly appeared vulnerable to balls slid in from deep, will need to be eradicated.
There had been similar fragility against Swansea City at the weekend and sooner or later someone will punish them. But while Arsenal are this prolific as an attacking force the management can work on strengthening defensive cohesion on the quiet. This was a saunter.
Source: Guardian (UK).