SUMMARY Mesut Ozil scored his first-ever hat-trick as Arsenal cruised to a seventh successive victory in all competitions by blowing away Ludogorets. Riding high on confidence after a fine run of form, we came into the game as heavy favourites – and wasted no time in showing why. Alexis opened the scoring with a brilliantly-taken lob in the opening exchanges, but the Gunners did not have it all their own way in the first half. They were indebted to David Ospina, who made three smart saves as his side came under pressure midway through the opening period, before Theo Walcott’s stinging drive extended their advantage. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s industrious display was rewarded with a goal right at the start of the second half, before Mesut Ozil stroked home a fourth as Arsène Wenger’s side moved through the gears. The World Cup winner, fresh from his brilliant volley against Swansea on Saturday, added his third in the space of two games with a well-executed finish near the end. But Ozil was not done there, and with three minutes remaining he volleyed home Lucas’ pass to wrap up a fine night for both him and his team. SETTING THE SCENE Arsenal came into the first of their back-to-back games against the Bulgarian champions in fine fettle, with an inviting opportunity to take control of Group A. Ludogorets had never won away in the Champions League, and had only one victory in the competition in their history, a record that offered significant encouragement to in-form Gunners. But the visitors’ impressive performances against Basel and Paris Saint-Germain had given Wenger plenty of food for thought, and left the manager pondering how much to rotate a winning team. He plumped for four changes, with Ospina continuing as the Champions League goalkeeper and Kieran Gibbs replacing Nacho Monreal at left back. Elsewhere, Francis Coquelin returned to the starting XI after recovering from a knee injury sustained against Chelsea, with Granit Xhaka dropping to the bench. The final change saw Oxlade-Chamberlain rewarded for his eye-catching late cameo against Swansea with a starting berth on the left flank. FIRST HALF It did not take long for the Gunners to get into their stride, with Theo Walcott looking particularly sharp in the early knockings. The England international had seven goals to his name prior to kick off and soon had a chance to add to his tally but chose to square the ball rather than shoot after finding space in the area. The hosts continued to apply the pressure and they soon had their reward, as Alexis beat the Ludogorets offside trap, raced into the box and dinked the ball over Vladislav Stoyanov and into the far corner. It was a delightful finish that highlighted the confidence with which the Chilean – and the entire Arsenal team – is playing at present. But Ludogorets were determined to make life difficult for Wenger’s side and their movement in attack was giving the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi something to think about. The Brazilian triumverate of Marcelinho, Wanderson and Jonathan Cafu were full of pace and poise, and Ospina had to be alert to deny the latter two as the visitors began to grow in confidence. The Bulgarians had burst to life, and Ospina was soon sharply off his line to steal the ball off the feet of Cafu as he looked to take it around the Colombian goalkeeper. It was a stark warning to Arsenal not to lose their focus, but Ludogorets again came close to equalising as Cafu raced through, only for Ospina to race out and divert the ball away from danger. The Emirates crowd demanded more from their team, and the Gunners responded as Coquelin slipped the ball through to Walcott in the area, with the forward’s powerful effort palmed away by Stoyanov. But the Ludogrets goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Walcott’s next effort, as the forward collected Gibbs’ pass outside the area, took a touch and then curled a stunning strike into the top corner. SECOND HALF Within 60 seconds of the restart, the Gunners extended their lead as Gibbs broke down the left flank and curled in a low ball across the six-yard box. The visitors failed to deal with the danger, and with the ball bouncing dangerously by the penalty spot Oxlade-Chamberlain raced on to it and coolly slotted it into the bottom corner. Wenger’s side were really in the groove now and they added a fourth nine minutes later as Cazorla looked up and played Ozil in on goal with an inch-perfect lofted pass. There was still plenty to do for the German, but his sublime first touch took the ball away from his marker before he slotted it calmly under Stoyanov and into the empty net for his second goal in two games. Oxlade-Chamberlain tested Stoyanov with a stinging close-range volley soon afterwards after slick build-up play, but the rampant hosts would have to wait until eight minutes from the end to find another. Once again Ozil was on the end of it, finishing confidently with his right foot after substitute Lucas has broken clear down the right and supplied an inviting cross for his team-mate. The pair combined again in the 87th minute, as Lucas crossed the ball in from the right this time, with Ozil sending a beautifully-controlled volley into the bottom corner. It was more than enough to secure the three points, moving us ever closer to the knockout stage. But top spot is the prize that Wenger and his side covet most, and a victory in Bulgaria in two weeks time would be another big step in that direction.
Walcott 61 Goal!
Ozil Goal! Goal! Goal!