Pre-Match Report

Ludogorets v Arsenal: The Inside Track

By Josh James in Sofia

THE QUOTE

"They are an offensive team, we are an offensive team, so we should see two teams trying to get forward." - Arsène Wenger

THE PREVIEW

We have been here before. Not literally - this is our first-ever trip to Bulgaria - but certainly in terms of Champions League qualification.

A win in Sofia, coupled with a draw or victory for Paris Saint-Germain away to Basel, would send Arsène Wenger's men beyond the group stages for the 17th season in a row. Indeed a draw would be enough to progress, should the French side win in Switzerland.

Team news

Arsenal: Lucas (ankle), Cazorla (heel), Walcott (hamstring), Monreal (muscle), Akpom (back), Bellerin (foot), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee)Ludogorets: Vitinha (knee)

"For us it’s a big game, because if we win we can qualify," Arsene Wenger said. "But if we lose, we can as well be in a difficult situation, so we know the importance of the game is massive."

Victory would take Arsenal to 10 points from four games, with securing top spot firmly within their sights. We haven’t won a Champions League group since 2011/12, and the manager agrees that could certainly make the road to Cardiff easier to navigate.

"It’s our prime target," he said. "But first let’s qualify. It's an advantage to win the group because we would play the second game in the last-16 at home, so you know exactly what you need to achieve at home.

"We'd have the support - if it goes to extra-time, we are at home, if it goes to penalties, we play at home. There are lots of little advantages added to one another, but as well if you can’t finish first, finish second.

"But that’s why we try to finish first. We have paid the price many times by finishing second, playing against Barcelona and Bayern Munich for example, so we think it’s important."

ONE TO WATCH

David Ospina has taken the gloves for all three Champions League games this season, and hasn't conceded since the first minute of the first match.

He was Arsenal's stand-out performer in that opening-night draw in Paris, and then kept clean sheets in each of his next two outings.

In fact the Colombian keeper laid the foundations for our convincing win over Ludogorets last time out, coming up with two big saves with a score at just 1-0.

 

David Ospina

David Ospina

 

“We’d like to give credit to Ospina who saved us twice with very important saves,” the boss said after that game.

"It’s funny because the more goals we scored, the better we defended. In the first half it’s true that we were sometimes in danger with runs coming from deep.

"The strikers came into midfield, flooded the midfield and got them out of pressure. Then we were in trouble twice."

That night Ospina became the first goalkeeper to stop Ludogorets scoring in nine Champions League games this season, including qualifiers. Another shut-out on Tuesday will go a long way to sending Arsenal through to the knockout stages.

THE OPPOSITION

Only once have Arsenal won both games of the matchday three and four double header - against Sparta Prague during the run to the final in 2005/06.

The Gunners are strong favourites to complete a Bulgarian double on Tuesday, especially after the 6-0 win two weeks ago against the side from Razgrad.

Since then however Ludogorets have scored 13 goals in three games, and the boss was keen to avoid drawing too many conclusions from the first meeting between the sides.

"That result was flattering for us, because although we scored many goals, I don't forget that they had chances in the first half when the game was very tight," he said.

"We'll need a strong defensive performance to stop them from being dangerous because they had chances as well.

"It will be different this time, because it's a new game, and you can never predict what will happen in a football game, that's why we love it.

"Overall, the two teams will have a positive attitude and try to win the game.

"I expect a competitive match because in their position they have to try to win. I think it was an interesting game, the first meeting. They are an offensive team, we are an offensive team, so we should see two teams trying to get forward."

FROM THE ARCHIVES

15:08

Ludogorets (h) - Highlights

 

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