Ozil gives Arsenal a comeback from behind to book place in Champions League last 16
Arsenal recovered from two goals down to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League courtesy of a 3-2 victory over Ludogorets Razgrad at the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia this evening.
The Gunners found themselves trailing by two inside 15 minutes, but they were level by half time and a moment of individual brilliance from Mesut Ozil completed the comeback late on to guarantee their place in the knockout rounds for a 17th consecutive season.
Ludogorets went into the match looking to avenge their 6-0 defeat in the reverse fixture at the Emirates two weeks ago, but it was Arsenal who created the first chance of the contest eight minutes in when Ozil, who netted his first professional hat-trick in that match, fired an effort straight at Milan Borjan after a flowing team move.
The home side had scored 13 goals in three matches since being on the end of the rout in North London, and they soon showed their goalscoring prowess again to put themselves seemingly on course for a first ever victory against English opposition.
Jonathan Cafu opened the scoring in the 12th minute as Ludogorets maintained their record of having scored in every home Champions League group game, with the Brazilian steering the ball just inside the post following a devilish free kick delivery from Wanderson.
Cafu turned provider moments later as the Bulgarian champions made it two goals in just over three minutes, with the winger skipping past Kieran Gibbs before playing a low pass in for Claudiu Keseru to turn home for his eighth goal in his last four games.
The quickfire double may have raised concerns of another November slump in form for Arsenal, but it took them just five minutes to halve the deficit as Granit Xhaka registered his first ever Champions League goal by sweeping Ozil’s cross past the keeper from inside the penalty area.
Ozil himself saw a goalbound volley blocked towards the end of the half, but the Gunners did restore parity moments later as Olivier Giroud marked his first start of the season with his third goal in his last two games, beating the keeper to Aaron Ramsey’s cross and flicking the ball into an empty net.
The second half began at a slower tempo as Ludogorets looked to frustrate Arsenal before hitting them on the counter-attack, and it was a tactic that almost came to fruition shortly after the hour mark when the visitors were caught out on the break, only for Wanderson to fire a tame shot straight at David Ospina.
Ospina thwarted Wanderson again moments later after the Brazilian had snuck in behind the defence, before his compatriot Cafu fired another warning shot well off target from the edge of the area.
Arsenal continued to struggle for clear chances in the second half, though, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slicing a rare opening wide of the target with just five minutes remaining.
It did not prove to be a costly miss, though, as Ozil made it four goals in two games against the Bulgarians with a moment of magic in the 88th minute, beating the offside trap to race through on goal before scooping the ball over the onrushing Borja and keeping his composure to slot into the empty net.
That proved to be the winner as Arsenal sealed their place in the knockout rounds with two games to spare, staying top of Group A level on points with Paris Saint-Germain, who also qualified with a late victory over Basel in Switzerland.
The victory means that Arsenal are now unbeaten in 15 matches since the opening day of the season and 12 away games since March, although it is only their second Champions League win on the road in their last five away outings.
The Gunners will now turn their attention to Sunday’s North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, while Ludogorets are left to battle with Basel for third place in the group.