Arsenal’s ability to field a vast array of options in midfield and attack continues to help them both domestically and in Europe, as Wednesday night’s comprehensive victory over Ludogorets in the Champions League proved.
It was the first time Arsenal had faced Bulgarian opposition in any competition but the visitors’ task at a chilly Emirates Stadum always looked an ominous one. The last Bulgarian side to win a European away game against an English side was CSKA Sofia over 30 years ago, against Nottingham Forest, and that did not look like changing for a minute here.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was able to hand starting sports to Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom have found playing time difficult to come by over the past few weeks. David Ospina once again took over from Petr Cech, as he has done for Champions League group stage games after forging a deal with Wenger before the season started, and he once again looked solid and confident when tested in goal, although those moments were few and far between. Brazilian midfielder Wanderson missed a superb opportunity to pull one back for the away side when he flashed an effort wide of Ospina’s post but Arsenal’s dominance was total otherwise.
Alexis Sanchez has yet to put pen to paper on a contract extension but he continues to make key contributions to Arsenal’s season. His sumptuous lob in the 12th minute means he has now been involved in four of the Gunners goals in the Champions League this season, scoring two himself. The Chilean’s emergence as an option as a centre forward has been a real success story – and may be a difference maker given the lack of other options – and shows no sign of faltering as the campaign wears on.
Similarly, Theo Walcott has now scored six goals in four home games this season and his decision to commit himself to playing on the right wing has salvaged his Arsenal career. If any of the Gunners’ fringe players, meanwhile, needed a confidence boost they got that when Oxlade-Chamberlain staked his claim for a place in the team by finishing off a superb attacking move a minute into the second half.
If there is any player more integral than Sanchez it is Mesut Ozil, who the club are also trying to tie down to new terms. The German demonstrated that he is worth every penny it will take to re-sign him by scoring a second-half hat-trick to put a gloss on the scoreline having assisted Walcott’s second.
The options Arsenal now possess across their squad make them a genuine threat in the Premier League and Champions League, even if tonight’s opposition weren’t of the ilk Wenger’s men are likely to face in the latter stages.
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