Ludogrets Preview: Progress On Many Levels

Match day and a team whose name is a dream for anagram lovers. Ludogrets Razgrad are the first Bulgarian team Arsenal have faced in a competitive match. They are currently sitting second in the First League with one defeat to their name – away to leaders Levski Sofia. A fact which is included to let you know some research goes into these posts although you may struggle to believe that at times.

We’ll dive straight in with the team news. Arsène revealed yesterday that the squad is unchanged from Saturday’s 3 – 2 win over Swansea City whilst both Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey are “not far away” from returning to first team football. That could well be coded speak for “they’ll be fit for Tottenham”.

For once, Arsenal go into the back-to-back Champions League fixtures knowing that passage to the next round will most likely be secured with four points. Yet four points would be a disappointing return from these two games; they are eminently winnable and should be won.

Arsène faced the media yesterday and divination by press conference suggests Francis Coquelin will start tonight. I can’t recall the last time he was accompanied by a substitute on such an occasion. The astute among no doubt wonder how much notice I take of such things and the answer is I typically don’t.

A brief recollection of Gareth Southgate’s comment at his first England ‘presser’ – as we in the know call them – was that the player accompanying him – Theo Walcott on the day – had to be a ‘starter’.

If so, Granit Xhaka’s red card against Swansea at the weekend is more costly than just a suspension which ends after the trip to Sunderland. Missing two home games in his ban – I’d forgotten that the weekend’s match against Middlesbrough was at the Emirates yesterday – eases the ‘pain’ somewhat whilst Coquelin’s return from injury has proven timely.

It’s tempting to make a couple of changes with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas Perez the most likely to join Coquelin in the starting line-up. Arsène hinted as much yesterday when he said, “For now I am just looking at how players recover and how we can win the next game. The squad is not 11 – we have 25 players and everyone will contribute over the course of the season.”

That tonight’s game is at home offers the best opportunity of the immediate fixtures to rest a few players such as Alexis who could probably do with it. I know the Reading match offers the same opportunity and some will argue that this is more important.

As Wenger says, the squad isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for the whole season. These players are signed on the basis that they are good enough for the first team so including them will weaken us to an extent but not detrimentally. The contentious choice is probably Oxlade-Chamberlain for Walcott, given swapping Perez for Alexis.

It might be a step too far for Arsène as well. Taking the leading scorers out of the side is a potential pitfall but Ox is in his best form for some time and nurturing that into consistency is worth inclusion tonight, I think. He might come in on the left but I have an inkling Alex Iwobi isn’t featuring in Wenger’s rotation plans just yet.

It leaves the line-up as:

Which with my track record means an unchanged starting XI from Saturday. There is some thought Kieran Gibbs might replace Nacho with the latter yet to reach his peak form this season. I’m not inclined to agree to the change – although I’d agree that by his high standards, Nacho is not at his best – with a sub-par Monreal still better than Gibbs in my view.

All of which makes it seem that Arsenal just have to turn up to win. They don’t, Ludogrets will make them work for the win but ten games unbeaten, including six straight wins, breeds confidence. Plus the experience of Olympiacos and Zagreb last season is seared into the psyche, never to be forgotten by players or supporters.

With PSG at home to Basel, the destiny of the group will pretty much be decided with two home wins tonight, to the extent that both sides avoiding defeat in the return will seal progress. It’s a refreshing change in that sense but not grounds for the complacency which permeates through today’s post.

Finally, if you can’t contain your excitement for tonight’s game, take a trip back to 1977 on Dad’s Jukebox here.

Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

127 thoughts on “Ludogrets Preview: Progress On Many Levels

  1. C says:

    ARSENE GIVE HIM WHATEVER HE WANTS TO KEEP HIM IN AN ARSENAL SHIRT! #10 SHIRT, 250K/WK, FUCKING REUS OR DRAXLER IF HE WANTS THAT, JUST KEEP HIM IN AN ARSENAL SHIRT!

    Hat trick and an assist.

  2. C says:

    For as brilliant as Suarez, Neymar and Messi are, they are all shit at penalties.

  3. Kenny says:

    Hey guys, we’ve got our world class striker.
    His name is Mesut Ozil!

  4. C says:

    Neymar just embarrassed maybe 4 Citeh players

  5. Wavey says:

    C,

    City still have a serious problem in Europe. Lucky for them that the other two teams in the group probably won’t threaten the second spot.

  6. philmar says:

    Scoring against the 2nd place Bulgarian League team does not a world class striker make.

  7. philmar says:

    I see the scoreline but am more interested in our substitutions which I can’t see. Who did Arsene sub off? I pray God he used all 3 of them!!

  8. Ras says:

    A good result. You can only beat what is in front of you.

    They way in which Ozil scores is very much in keeping with his style. Languid.

    They came and did not park the bus. It matters not now. I felt a number of the Ludo players were putting themselves in the shop window.

    I want to see more from Perez. Le Coq was very good c soir.

    Sanchez must be a nightmare to manage. The precision in finishing for his goal was awesome. Just before scoring he stops and looks up and takes measure using his face( Lower mandabile jaw) and points to where he’s going to place it. Awesome.

    If and it’s a BIG IF the Team can stay injury free and confidence is maintained and rotation is used wisely we can be competitive this season.

  9. HenryB says:

    Wavey,

    That is probably right. Oz looked tired, and suddenly bam – bam – bam. 😀

  10. Bill says:

    That was fun. What an awesome performance. This is the best form we have had since Jan-March 2015. A hat trick from ozil. Where has that been for the last 3 years while we were struggling to score? I would much rather have the goals from our #10 position

  11. C says:

    Wavey,

    They do and I think part of it is that players like Silva, Sterling and whoever is playing beside Fernandinho just don’t play well in Europe not to mention they keep drawing Barca who continues to destroy them. Also, their FB’s get exposed by pace but we see that in the PL.

  12. C says:

    philmar,

    He brought on Elneny, Iwobi and Perez for Theo, Sanchez and Santi. Elneny looked like and plays exactly like Santi. Perez bagged the 2 assists for Ozil’s last two goals and both were brilliant lil balls. Iwobi was lively.

  13. andy1886 says:

    philmar,

    Santi, Theo and Alexis replaced by Elneny, Perez and Iwobi.

  14. andy1886 says:

    Ha! Just beat me to it C. Maybe Perez will get more minutes at the weekend. Le Coq seems to be responding to the challenge, all in all if not the best team we’ve ever had it’s probably one of the best squads at least.

  15. mesutsleftfoot says:

    What a difference this season, last year we’d have taken two of those chances and conceded at least once….Kos and Mustafi again excellent. Coq was formidable and to think this team still doesn’t have Xhaka (for now), Giroud, Ramsey, Welbeck, Wilshere…..Ozil and Sanchez proving they should get that wage bump….

  16. C says:

    andy1886,

    When Perez has played, he has produced, so I think he deserves more playing time. I would love to see him get a start against Middlesbrough even though we know he is going to start against Reading.

  17. mesutsleftfoot says:

    C

    I’d pick same team but swap Ox for Perez for Middlesbourgh, but then again Iwobi has been immense. Picking the team is a headache for all now. Even Gibbs played well enough to want a start, a much needed rest for Monreal.

    I really want to see Perez and Sanchez in same starting line up now he’s bedded in a bit

  18. philmar says:

    Theo, Sanchez and Santi. THANKS Andy and C !!
    Glad Sanchez and Santi got some rest. They probably need it and will benefit the most from it. As would Bellerin. I wonder if Bellerin is going to play every game until he breaks. But I can see Wenger’s thinking: Theo is probably more brittle and injury prone s o he should be protected, especially since he is in form.
    Well done Arsene.

  19. C says:

    mesutsleftfoot,

    Tend to agree. Perez should get a start against Middlesbrough. Gibbs played well but Nacho still starts.

  20. mesutsleftfoot says:

    C,

    Yeah, Monreal still starter for me too. Brings a sense of calm! We do need to consider resting Bellerin soon….he’s played 90+ mins pretty much every game this season

  21. C says:

    Craziest stat, that was Ozil’s firsr professional career hattrick.

  22. mesutsleftfoot says:

    C,

    Mustafi and Kos are fast becoming the best CB pairing I’ve seen for us in years. Seriously so impressed with how they play together. Having two Cbs who cover fullbacks and have pace is a game changer.

    All over the pitch we’re looking impressive right now. Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Iwobi and Ox all scoring or assisting each other. Santi, Coq, El Neny and Xhaka all looking solid and inventive on the ball and now our defence looks good as well with Gab and Holding both looking good.

    I wonder how welbeck, Ramsey and Giroud are possibly going to get back into this team when they are fit….

  23. YW says:

    C

    Not sure it is a surprise it’s his first. He averages 5 a season. He’s only hit double figures 3 times in 14 seasons in which he’s averaged 31 games.

    Be interested to know how many times he’s scored twice in a game.

  24. Damon says:

    Well, that was fun! They came to play and got walloped

    The worry is still there for me between the first and second goal. They dropped off massively, became complacent, Ozil went missing and we could’ve easily been two one down before Theo scored. I can’t remember the last time we did a real professional number on someone where we didn’t give them a sniff. Maybe that United game, but that was because the three goals were all on top of each other

  25. Jonny says:

    What an enjoyable game.
    Ozil really is starting to look like Bergkamp.
    Meanwhile a great game of cricket is under way. Bangladesh have prepared a day 3 pitch that’s been turning right angles from the start. It’s also bouncy and full of cracks.
    Love it – this is going to be quick and entertaining.
    If we get there, I look forward to day 3 – which will technically be day 6.

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