Complacency, Giroud up top, and the mesmerism of Mesut

THE MATCH

Despite the eventual scoreline, Ludogorets showed enough in the first match at the Emirates to suggest that they were very capable in attack.

Things may not have run well for them in London but it was clear that they moved the ball quickly, thrived on the counter, and had some powerful ball carriers in wide positions.

With that in mind, it was disappointing to see Arsenal caught cold by two quick-fire goals that owed more to a lack of concentration and a degree of complacency than any great show of skill or cunning.

It’s a theme we have seen once or twice in recent weeks, where the players’ confidence is almost too high for their own good. We must learn quickly that simply turning up is not enough anymore.

Middlesbrough demonstrated as much and the Bulgarian champions came within a whisker of doing the same. Confidence is great in a team but it must stop short of straying into arrogance or complacency.

That’s not to suggest that we needed to show some sort of deep reverence for Ludogorets attacking prowess, rather we needed to be switched on to the threat they clearly posed.

In truth, even at 2-0 down, I was oddly calm and confident that we could claw our way back into the game but it was a turnaround that really ranks as 1 in 100. The vast majority of opponents are simply not going to let that lead slip.

Fortunately for the Gunners, Ludogorets are badly let down by their defence, which was exposed on several occasions by the class of our attacking players.

When you look back at the record books, it will simply be another victory for the team and qualification for the next round of the Champions League secured, and that’s an excellent night’s work.

But, as ever, the headlines never tell the whole story and there’ll be some important things to think about when Arsene and his team mull over this one.

THE SYSTEM

The return of Olivier Giroud to full fitness prompted Arsene to tinker with his playing system, which resulted in Alexis Sanchez being moved back out onto the wing, to make room for the Frenchman up front.

Did it work? It’s very difficult to say based on just the one game, but it did feel at times to me as though we struggled to penetrate the hosts.

There was something about our build-up play, and our performance in midfield, which was just a little more ponderous, a little less dynamic. It reminded me of last season, where we struggled at length with breaking down defensive teams.

As sceptical as I was with the manager’s decision to persist with Alexis up front, it has been difficult to argue with the results it has produced. We have looked quicker, sharper, and more dangerous with the Chilean leading the line and leading the press.

But look, Giroud scored and we won, so, at face value, it seems as if the change was a success. That said, I would be much happier with a return to Alexis up front for our upcoming fixtures, with Theo Walcott, should he be fit, returned to the wing.

Aaron Ramsey is returning from a lengthy stint on the sidelines and will need much more time before he is worthy again of a starting berth, particularly with Theo playing as well as he is.

MESUT OZIL

The collective well of superlatives has run dry when it comes to the German.

He has continued to improve as his Arsenal career has progressed, and has added and refined his game wherever weakness has been found.

His desire to develop, to perfect, and to defy criticisms is astounding and inspiring in equal measure.

All that is missing from his Gunners’ record is a major title – a Premier League or a European trophy – something that would elevate him from superb player into club icon in the minds’ of fans.

Heck, it may even put him in contention for the Ballon d’Or, an award which is normally only winnable if your name happens to be Ronaldo or Messi.

It seems an age ago since Ozil was forced off at Stamford Bridge with a knee injury – at that time a player who was lightweight and prone to being bullied out of games.

Fast forward almost two years and we have ourselves a bigger, stronger, more decisive Ozil who is capable of turning games in an instant. Every inch a match winner and a genuine world class talent.

Even when he is not on top of his game, a case that could be made for both matches against Ludogorets, he produces moments of magic that prove so crucial – his hat-trick in the first game and his match-winning goal in the second.

There are contract negotiations ongoing with the World Cup winner, Arsene has said as such, and I think general consensus among followers of the club is that he should be paid whatever he desires. In the kind of form we have seen from him in the last few seasons, it is difficult to argue otherwise.

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