A late Mesut Özil wonder goal settled a nervy away tie in Sofia, as Arsenal came back from a shaky start against Ludogorets Razgrad to advance to the knockout stage yet again, winning 3-2 in Bulgaria.
Quick start from hosts shocks Gunners
Although Arsenal had a bright start, Özil seeing a tame effort saved by Borjan, it was the hosts who took an unlikely lead after 14 minutes, following an unfortunate handball, Brazilian Jonathan Cafu turned home an early free kick to open the scoring for the Bulgarian champions.
The talismanic Cafu turned provider three minutes later, played in down the left he left the returning Kieran Gibbs on the floor with a neat trick before laying the ball onto Claudio Keseru who tapped home Ludogorets’ second.
The Gunners looked a far cry from the side that put six goals past Razgrad two weeks ago and nowhere close to the well oiled machine they’ve become during their run since losing their home opener with Liverpool in August.
Xhaka pulls one back before Giroud levels
However, the Bulgarian side’s lead wouldn’t last, Arsenal clearly upped the gears after the second goal and were rewarded minutes later when summer signing Granit Xhaka bagged his first ever UEFA Champions League goal.
Özil managed to keep the ball in play and pulled across a reverse ball that found its way to the Swiss international who slotted home in the bottom far corner.
French forward Olivier Giroud continued his fine return from injury with the equaliser just before half time, a pinpoint Aaron Ramsey cross found his head as he beat the goalkeeper to the ball to find the open net.
Wenger's men frustrated before Ozil settles it
The second half continued to be a frustrating affair however, as Arsenal dominated possession with little showing for their endeavour, it looked at times as though Ludogorets could even come away with win with Brazilians Wanderson and Cafu finding space on the counter attack and stand in goalkeeper David Ospina proving his worth with a string of fine stop.
The winner finally did arrive three minutes from the end, substitute Mohamed Elneny played in Özil over the top of Razgrad’s staggeringly high line and the German did well to stay onside en route to goal.
The goal itself was a thing of beauty, as the in-form midfielder flicked the ball over the onrushing Borjan, before waiting until two scrambling Razgrad defenders committed themselves and placing the ball in the bottom corner to seal an impressive European away comeback.
The comeback will be on par with those against Standard Liege and Shakhtar Donetsk for some, it also sealed the Gunners’ place in the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League once again and kept them in top spot on goal difference.
Arsenal looked as if they may put some distance between themselves and Paris Saint Germain, as the French Champions themselves struggled against FC Basel in Switzerland, however, full back Meunier’s late stunner, means PSG and Arsenal share top spot in Group A for now ahead of their shootout for first place in London after the International break.