Group A could be pretty much done and dusted by the time the clock strikes midnight. With Arsenal travelling to Ludogorets and Paris Saint-Germain heading to Basel, qualification could be achieved by the two away sides, leaving Ludogorets and FC Basel to compete for the Europa League spot. The expectation is that the Gunners, along with PSG, will be left to fight it out for the top spot in the group after a comfortable victory in Bulgaria.
Victory for the Gunners would take them to 10 points in the group and secure yet another season of Champions League knockout football. An unbeaten domestic run since defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the season makes Arsenal one of Europe’s form sides. Attacking football has been flowing, while the defence has looked its most secure in years. Everything is bobbing along swimmingly for Arsene Wenger and his team, but there are faint, weakly-flashing warning lights that should cause some concern.
The home draw with Middlesbrough, which could have easily ended in an embarrassing defeat, has been swept under the carpet somewhat. Aitor Karanka’s team managed to stifle Arsenal when in possession and spring a catalogue of devastating counter-attacks that could easily have resulted in the Gunners conceding several times. Adama Traore’s pace had Arsenal defensively uncertain and the Middlesbrough defence was resolute to avoid being pulled apart by the fluid movement of Arsenal’s front four.
Then, away to Sunderland last weekend, Arsenal were not quite the ruthless unit we had seen earlier in the month. A final 4-1 victory was well-deserved, but a brief scare something the Gunners should never have allowed when Petr Cech conceded a penalty and Jermain Defoe converted. Chances were created throughout a dominant first half, but such opportunities were not turned into goals, leaving the door ajar for the most unlikely of Sunderland comebacks.
The scare was brief thanks to Olivier Giroud’s goal with his first touch, but those flashes of vulnerability is an area of concern. Creating chances was no problem for Arsenal, taking them was the real issue until they were kicked into life by Sunderland’s equaliser.
xG map for Sunderland – Arsenal. So now they're back I guess. pic.twitter.com/xx7H8rVC9T
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) October 29, 2016
Arsenal’s woes in November have historically condemned their season to disappointment. Difficulty to kill games off, like last weekend, along with puzzling team selections from Wenger have made this a challenging time of year. Ludogorets proved their ability to trouble Arsenal in the first leg, despite ending up on the end of a thrashing. Lapses in defensive concentration or allowing the game to meander could easily see Arsenal caught off guard.
The temptation, with qualification looking so likely, will be for Wenger to rest players who have started regularly. But Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and the central-defensive pairing of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny must all begin the match in Razgrad. There is a time and a place for rotation, but a potentially season-changing away Champions League fixture certainly isn’t it.