Mesut Ozil scores his first hat trick in Arsenal's 6-0 demolition of Ludogorets
LONDON -- Here are three thoughts from Arsenal's 6-0 victory over Ludogorets in the Champions League on Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium.
1. Arsenal have real chance to top group
No alarms, no surprises.
Arsenal did not have to wait long for a goal in this 6-0 demolition of Bulgarian side Ludogorets, and it could mean one long drought will finally come to an end. It has been five years since the Gunners finished first in a group, but after three games, that's exactly where they sit. With Mesut Ozil netting a second-half hat trick, Arsenal look to be in the kind of sleek, goal-scoring form that will keep them there. They are clearly playing with a collective confidence that brings out the best in their players.
Arsenal's cohesion could be seen from the very first goal, as Alexis Sanchez gloriously killed an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pass and set himself up in the box before deftly lifting it over Vladislav Stoyanov and into the net.
It was sublime. There was a slight danger at that point of Arsenal admiring their fine play a little too much, and they did get complacent enough to allow Ludogorets a fair few chances that David Ospina did well to stop, but it wasn't long before they started scoring again. Theo Walcott, the man who can't seem to stop finding the back of the net, struck second. On 40 minutes, he curled a shot around Stoyanov to make it 2-0.
Oxlade-Chamberlain capped a fine individual performance by smashing in the third from close range straight after halftime, before Ozil claimed a hat trick for himself. On 57 minutes, he slid home on the break. He easily volleyed home a cross in the 83rd minute before improving on that with a better volley just four minutes later.
Arsenal just look so comfortable, on the table as much as on this pitch. It could make all the difference to their Champions League campaign and see them finally avoid a heavyweight in the last 16. They just need to keep this up to keep on top.
2. Walcott adds another string to his bow
There are many Arsenal players in sparkling form who deserve special mention for their performances. Sanchez looks released and rampant up front. Oxlade-Chamberlain put in a brilliantly complete display. Ozil was gloriously gliding all over the pitch.
Those are all qualities we've seen before, though. What we haven't really witnessed is Walcott scoring a long-range goal like he did against Ludogorets.
Sure, he might have been a little fortunate that the goalkeeper was left grasping at his shot, and it maybe could have been placed better, but the key point was the confidence to try it. It is just not something we're used to seeing from Walcott, who seems to score only certain types of goals.
Sources close to Walcott say he became determined to improve all aspects of his game in the summer, particularly in terms of his shape and physicality, and that was evidenced at the Emirates on Wednesday in his willingness to take a pot-shot such as that.
Before that, though, Walcott was the outlet to so frequently get behind the Ludogorets defence. He looks undroppable right now -- though you could say that about a few Arsenal players.
3. Ospina a stark contrast to a year ago
The position in the group is not the only contrast from a year ago. There is also the form of Ospina. Just more than 13 months ago, Arsenal were put into a difficult position in the Champions League group because of his shambolic display in a 3-2 home defeat to Olympiakos. Here, he was the exact opposite. As ludicrous as it sounds after his team won 6-0, he actually prevented a slip-up in this match with a series of fine saves and a generally solid performance.
As comfortable as Arsenal were in the second half, it was not like that for most of the first 45 minutes. After Sanchez scored his sumptuous opening goal, the Gunners got a bit slack and complacent. It was Ludogorets who had the best chances for the next 25 minutes.
Luckily for Arsenal, though, one player stayed sharp: the stand-in goalkeeper. He stood up well and stood out -- literally.
On 23 minutes, Wanderson tried to outfox the Arsenal back line by taking it wide, but Ospina read the move and got down to save. He was even sharper five minutes later, when Virgil Misidjan was put through on goal, but the Colombian cleverly and quickly slapped the ball away.
Walcott scored shortly afterward to ensure the win, but Ospina had been a solid foundation.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.