Good morning Positives,
I don’t think any of us were surprised by the result last night as we had been, and were again in Sofia, a better equipped football team than the Bulgarian champions. We acknowledged Ludogorets had some talent and, at home, would probably be a more difficult prospect to beat. However we expected to win, we expected to go through into the last 16, again.
Equally I doubt any of us expected to win in the way we did, fighting back after an opening fifteen minutes in which the hosts shocked us twice. I have checked the script and there was no reference whatsoever to falling behind by two goals, then having to clamber back into the game.
Of the game itself Arsene clearly decided that a decisive step toward qualification was required and started with the strongest 11 available, bar Cech. As matters turned out his caution was well placed as the opening few minutes of the contest was wide open, Sanchez spinning and cutting through the greenshirts, with the Bulgars again raiding fast and wide as they had in London. The first goal conceded was a cock up, from the strange decision by the referee to award a handball, to some static defending by Kosc and Mustafi, a scuffed clump by Cafu (or possibly an own goal by Jenks but we will ignore that) before bobbling past a flat footed Ospina. It was not a classic. Shit happens, but shit has consequences. Sparked by that gift the home side raced forward again, the irritating Cafu turned Kieran inside out, and bingo – 2-0. The second Ludogorets goal was rather good I thought.
Just for Eddy I have retrieved the offending picture from the DT site;
Were we unhorsed ? Did we panic – Was it Zagreb Part II ?
Not in the least. A commendable mental strength showed itself following the double setback. We immediately regained control of the ball, worked hard, tackled cleanly and pressed the home side back, creating space and chances around their penalty area. I sensed our lads had given themselves a collective slap and woken up properly. They stood a little taller and straighter. Two well taken goals from Xhaka and Olivier arrived as the result of our dominance. By half time we looked set for the victory and a further two or three goals.
And as I anticipated the second half of one way traffic and the game effectively over by the 70th minute or thereabouts exactly the opposite happened. The men in green, who did not appear to have a clue about defending in the preceding three halves of football, came out in two banks of four and frustrated our attacking efforts. Larry laboured hard, but on scraps. We seemed suddenly tired, listless, out of ideas.
On the break they menaced us and after a first half in which our keeper had almost nothing to do, Ospina was called onto make two saves from Wanderson that on another night would have left us stuffed and 4-2 down. In contrast to the first half it was Borjan in the home goal who had his feet up. Not only did the Bulgars play far more organised and intelligent football in the second half, they also flung themselves on the turf squealing every time they were touched, although on a couple of occasions Granit’s ‘touches’ might well have been grounds for the yellow card that he eventually earned. By 80th minute the game was at stalemate, with Ludogorets content to take a well earned point.
And then, out of the blue, a quick, long pass by Elneny, released Ozil. Our German drove straight toward the goal, scoped the ball over the advancing Borjan, left two defenders on their arse ( see above), and tapped in our winner, our saving moment, our vindication. IT IS WHAT WE DO!
That the game as decided by an exquisite goal from the most talented footballer on the pitch was appropriate.
What an odd referee, very good at times, but a unique view of what constitutes handball with decisions given against both sides on the slightest manual contact. I shall keep an eye on Mr Nijhuis.
On we go then, Europe settle for three weeks – Tottingham next and a very different challenge.
Enjoy your Wednesday.