Football

Gunning for glory

Arsenal getting red-hot for the title challenge

GROUP A

LUDOGORETS RAZGRAD 2
(Jonathan Cafu 12, Claudiu Keseru 15)

ARSENAL 3
(Grant Xhaka 20, Olivier Giroud 42, 
Mesut Oezil 88)

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised his team's consistency as victory in Razgrad saw them reach the last 16 of the Champions League for a 17th successive season - and now he wants to go further in the competition.

The Gunners came from two goals down to beat the Bulgarian champions in Sofia yesterday morning (Singapore time) and assure themselves of a place in the knockout rounds along with Group A rivals Paris St-Germain.

They continued their run of reaching at least that stage since 2000 - although in the past six seasons they have not managed to go any further.

Are they a better team now? Here are some views:

ARSENE WENGER:

"I believe that the most difficult thing in life is to be consistent at the top level.

"So it shows we have been quite consistent there. That we could do it again this year... Hopefully we can go further now.

"We have a game at home where we can finish top of the group.

"Let's maintain the quality of our results until the game against Paris St-Germain. We are in a position to finish top of the group."

Wenger has spoken plenty this season about a new maturity among his squad, who remain unbeaten since Liverpool triumphed at the Emirates on the opening weekend of the campaign.

And, with a North London Derby at home to Tottenham on Sunday, the Frenchman once again enthused about his players' approach.

"I give credit to the team spirit for that," he said when asked if their character had been tested.

"You get belief with positive results and this shows a healthy mentality in the group. The two together come out in this kind of games."

AARON RAMSEY:

"We showed great character and belief to get back into the game. We are on a strong run at the moment," Arsenal's Welsh midfielder told BT Sport.

Speaking on just his second start of the season, he added: "That's what I needed - to start a game and get minutes under my belt and it will put me in good shape now."

OLIVIER GIROUD:

The French striker told BT Sport: "We are on a strong run and we want to keep it up and keep the momentum."

CHARLIE NICHOLAS:

The former Arsenal star feels the Gunners are going from strength to strength this season.

"Overall, they are a team who, a year ago, would have felt sorry for themselves and felt it was not their night tonight," he told Sky Sports.

"They got knocked back against Sunderland and more than deserved to win. To go 1-1 there and two down tonight, that's a big change to what has happened at Arsenal.

"With the choices in the squad, (Aaron) Ramsey in the squad and Giroud playing tonight, they are going from strength to strength."

Ahead of Sunday's derby, Arsenal made five changes to the side who beat Sunderland at the weekend with Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal all missing the trip to Bulgaria.

Lucas Perez, Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck are long-term absentees, but Arsenal's strength in depth was highlighted against Ludogorets by the return to the starting line-up of Ramsey and Giroud.

- Wire Services.

To me, it didn't look like the optimal solution. But when the ball was in the net I thought it was. Great players make the right decisions in the situations they face. They always make the optimal solution. You wanted him to take maybe his chance earlier but, at the end, he had enough skill to prove that he was right.

— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Mesut Oezil's stupendous winner against Ludogorets Razgrad

 

Oezil's firing them on

Former Arsenal star Charlie Nicholas described Mesut Oezil as "from another planet" after his brilliant individual goal secured Arsenal a 3-2 comeback victory yesterday morning (Singapore time) against Ludogorets Razgrad.

Nicholas told Sky Sports: "(Mesut) Oezil was just different class. He comes from another planet that no other Arsenal player has found yet."

Substitute Mohamed Elneny's pass released the German international, who lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and rounded two defenders before slotting home and sealing Arsenal's spot in the last 16.

"He's got loads of talent and loads of good movement. Oezil was absolutely wonderful," Nicholas said of the 28-year-old's performance.

He added: "He proved his point against Chelsea when the Gunners stumbled for so long against them. He was a big player and scored a goal that day.

"They are at Spurs at the weekend and then after the international break away at Old Trafford.

"These are must-win games where big-time players need to turn up for the big events."

On the team, Nicholas said: "Arsenal have got that swagger about them.

"Oezil is in top form, (Alexis) Sanchez and him are knitting together - you have got Olivier Giroud in there fighting too.

"(Theo) Walcott is pushing through with real pace, (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain is pushing for his position and (Aaron) Ramsey is back in.

"If you look at Barcelona's bench tonight and Real Madrid and Atletico (Madrid), very few have the strength in depth that Arsenal have.

"But can they piece it all together and give it their competitive edge? Is this the time?"

Only time will tell, but there's no doubt they are beginning to show their true mettle.

- Wire Services.


HOTSHOT: Mesut Oezil's goal put the Gunners into the last 16 of the Champions League. PHOTO: REUTERS

MESUT OEZIL'S GOAL CELEBRATION EXPLAINED:

After scoring an amazing winner against Ludogorets Razgrad yesterday morning (Singapore time), Oezil ran to the corner, slid on his knees before sucking his thumb and making his famous "M" shape with his hand.

Oezil first broke out the move back in February 2015, when he dedicated his opener in the North London Derby to his baby niece Mira.

The midfield maestro made an "M" shape with his hand, while sucking his other thumb, after he put his side 1-0 up against Tottenham.

"It's for my brother's daughter Mira, her name starts with an 'M' and she's the first child from my brother and my first niece so she brought a lot of happiness to the family," he explained.

"I love her so much and I want to show her how much I love her so when I score a goal, I do this 'M'."

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