Arsene Wenger praised Mesut Ozil’s cool decision-making after his spectacular winner in Arsenal’s 3-2 victory over Ludogorets on Tuesday, but admitted his team were “caught cold” at the start.
Arsenal trailed 2-0 after just 15 minutes but staged a comeback that was capped off by Ozil when he came clear on goal, lifted the ball over goalkeeper Milan Borjan with a delicate touch and evaded two defenders before finishing into an empty net.
Even Wenger, however, wasn’t sure Ozil would be able to pull that one off.
“That’s the strength of the great players, they make the right decision,” Wenger told BT Sport. “I thought for a while he took too long to score. But at the end of the day, when they score you have to say ‘well done.'”
He later added in his news conference: “I would say great players make the right decisions in the game situations they face. They take the optimum solution. To me, it didn’t look like the optimum solution. You wanted him to take the chance earlier.
“But he had enough skill to prove he was right. When the ball was in the back of the net, it was clear it had been the optimum solution.”
It was an impressive comeback by Arsenal, but one they should never have had to make in the first place. Poor defending allowed to Jonathan Cafu and Claudiu Keseru to score twice in a three-minute span to shock the visitors. Arsenal responded with goals from Granit Xhaka and Olivier Giroud before the break before Ozil decided the game late.
Wenger said the key to the victory was “to not panic at 2-0 down, to keep our composure and stick to our game.”
“Overall I believe we were surprised by the speed of their start, we were a bit caught cold,” Wenger said. “Of course, in the Champions League when you’re 2-0 down away from home, with the crowd behind their team, it becomes very difficult.”
The victory put Arsenal through to the knockout stages for the 17th season in a row, and maintained their lead in Group A on goal difference ahead of Paris Saint-Germain.
“I believe that the most difficult thing in life is to be consistent at the top level,” Wenger added. “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 Saint-Germain. We are in position to finish top of the group.”
Arsenal face PSG at in the next round in a game that will likely decide which team wins the group and earns a potentially easier draw for the round of 16, and Giroud is targeting the top spot.
“We really want to finish first to have the opportunity to receive [a second-place team] in the last 16,” Giroud said. “So the PSG game will be massive, very important. And we’re doing well in the Premier League so it’s a good message. But we need to keep it up.”
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey made his first start since the opening day of the season after recovering from a hamstring injury and set up Giroud’s equaliser with a good cross into the box.
“I’m delighted to be back. It was a bit of a blow [being injured]. But that’s what I needed tonight, to start a game and to gather minutes under my belt,” Ramsey said. “And that will put me in good shape now. My target is just to stay fit and to play as much as I can now.”
And the Wales midfielder said the victory in Bulgaria sets the Gunners up nicely for the North London Derby against Tottenham on Sunday.
“It was important to keep the momentum going tonight, and we’ve come through with a win. So we’re in good shape going into that game,” Ramsey said. “And we’re at home, so hopefully we can come away with a win there as well.”
Ludogorets will now be fighting it out with Basel to finish third and qualify for the Europa League, with manager Georgi Dermendzhiev rocked by their defeat.
“Of course, we are devastated,” he said. “We were so close to get a draw. I think we played a great game. Arsenal is an excellent side and they punish mistakes.
“We played equal to them and that is a great boost for us. We are disappointed, but also proud.”
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Culled from ESPNFC