Defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin has stressed that Arsenal can ill afford to take anything for granted at home to Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets on Wednesday night as it seeks to finally finish top of a Champions League group. Arsenal has been knocked out of the Champions League in the first knockout round for the past six years, all when finishing runner-up in the group stage and having to face a group winner.
But a draw away at Paris Saint-Germain followed by a comfortable home win against Basel means Arsenal go into the third match day in a strong position to finally end that streak and avoid many of Europe’s top teams in the round of 16.
A home meeting with a Ludogorets side playing in the Champions League for just the second time is not expected to provide a roadblock to Arsenal’s objective. However, Coquelin, who returned from injury in a 3-2 win over Swansea City on Saturday, insists that the match is a crucial one.
"We’re all conscious of that,” Coquelin said in Arsenal’s pre-match press conference. "It’s a massive game tomorrow, especially at home. We know we’re going to have two more tough games away too, against Ludogorets and Basel, plus a home game against Paris Saint-Germain. So it’s massively important to get the three points tomorrow.”
Arsenal also heads into the match at the Emirates Stadium in fine form having won six games on the bounce in all competitions. That run has taken Arsene Wenger’s side level on points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table and sparked talk that the club could finally be set to end its 13-year title drought.
Like Coquelin, though, Wenger is eager not to get carried away.
“We play three home games this week and in every single game we are expected to win, but we have learned against Swansea on Saturday again that as soon as you ease off you’re in trouble because the difference between the teams is very small,” he said.
Title winners in Bulgaria for the past five seasons, Ludogorets’ sole previous experience in the Champions League group phase came two years ago. But the side acquitted itself well, losing narrowly at home to eventual title winners Real Madrid and taking a point off Liverpool.
This campaign, the club, which was only formed 15 years ago, has already claimed a draw on the road at Swiss champions Basel and took the lead last time out against Paris Saint-Germain before the French giant came back to win 3-1. It has also won five straight matches in the Bulgarian league.
Still, Arsenal can count upon Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez being in top form. And Wenger has also welcomed Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey back to training, although neither are likely to feature on Wednesday.
D: Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Coquelin, Cazorla
Walcott, Özil, Iwobi
D: Minev, Moți, Palomino, Natanael
M: Dyakov, Anicet
Misidjan, Marcelinho, Wanderson
Prediction: While Arsenal has an unfortunate habit of tripping up when expectations are high, particularly in the Champions League, that looks unlikely to happen on Wednesday. Wenger’s men brushed Basel aside comfortably in its first Champions League home match and should so similarly against Ludogorets.
Predicted Score: Arsenal 2-0 Ludogorets