Arsenal will go into their Champions League clash with Bulgarian champions Ludogorets full of confidence after having disposed of them 6-0 at the Emirates just weeks ago. Another win in Sofia would almost certainly guarantee the Gunners’ progress to the knockout stages, but as they proved to Liverpool’s detriment two years ago, Ludogorets are a tricky prospect on home soil.
Despite playing their European fixtures away from Razgrad at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia, they have made an effective home from home and PSG needed to be at their best to take three points from them on Matchday Two. The Bulgarians must win against Arsene Wenger’s side to have any chance of making the knockout stages, but even if they ultimately don’t make it, they’ll look for as much as they can get out of this one in order to try to pip FC Basel to the Europa League spot offered to the team finishing third.
Arsenal are on the back of a 14 match unbeaten run in all competitions and have taken a draw and two victories from their opening three in Europe. They are yet to win in the Champions League away from the Emirates this season however, and they will be seeking to put that right in Sofia on Tuesday night, and will be confident of doing so following the result in the return tie in North London.
Hosts Ludogorets will hope for a much-improved showing after their brutal defeat in the reverse fixture. They have only one point to their name from their opening three Champions League games, and their hopes of progression to the knockout stages will end if they do anything other than win on Tuesday.
Their priority for now however will surely be the Europa League, and they will need anything they can get if they are to secure a place in it by finishing third. The hosts have however won back-to-back games in their domestic league since the loss at the Emirates, scoring nine goals in their APFG League clashes with Lokomotiv Gorna and Dunav Ruse.
With no fresh injury or suspension concerns, Ludogorets are expected to name a relatively unchanged side for the clash with Arsenal. Their three regular Bulgarian internationals Vladislav Stoyanov, Yordan Minev and club captain Svetoslav Dyakov are expected to feature in their respective positions of goalkeeper, right-back and centre-midfield, with Brazilian-born danger-man Marcelinho in the hole behind his lone forward compatriot Jonathan Cafu. Wanderson is another to look out for on the left in Ludogorets’ attacking arsenal of Brazilian players.
For Arsenal, Theo Walcott is doubtful after sitting out the win over Sunderland at the weekend and may not be risked for here, while Santi Cazorla is expected to sit out ahead of Sunday’s North London derby with unbeaten Tottenham. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey both made their returns from injury at the weekend, but are expected to feature from the bench.
David Ospina is set to be recalled in place of Petr Cech having been a regular feature in the Champions League this season, with Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny making up the centre-half pairing. Nacho Monreal should return at left-back to rest Kieran Gibbs ahead of the weekend.
Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin are favourites to feature in the centre of midfield, whilst the front four who played on Saturday should remain: an attacking trio of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulling the strings behind the mercurial and potent Alexis Sanchez.
Ludogorets predicted starting XI Arsenal predicted starting XI
Ludogorets have no injury concerns ahead of their trip to Sofia to face the Gunners. Arsenal however have more of an injury list, and will be without Danny Welbeck, Per Mertesacker, Lucas Pérez, Chuba Akpom and Santi Cazorla for the game in Bulgaria. Theo Walcott is doubtful following his omission through injury on Saturday.
Following Arsenal’s whitewash of the Bulgarians at the Emirates, it would be easy to predict a similar scoreline. Liverpool however discovered at their peril that Ludogorets are very much a different prospect at home however, and although it won’t be quite as one-sided, Arsenal should have more than enough to get the job done here. We’re predicting Ludogorets Razgrad 1-4 Arsenal at full-time in Sofia.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Stuart MacFarlane.