Arsenal has a continental secret weapon, and his name is Lucas Perez.
The last-minute Spanish summer signing bagged two goals in the opening half and a third moments after the interval to rocket the Gunners to the top of the Group A standings in the Champions League.
With Arsenal’s one-sided 4-1 drubbing of Swiss champ FC Basel and Ludogorets’ shocking 2-2 stalemate with Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital, the Gunners vaulted above Unai Emery’s lot for group honours.
Arsene Wenger and Co. would be wise to send Ludogorets duo Virgil Misidjan and Wanderson a Christmas pudding after their goals stunned PSG at Parc des Princes, relegating the four-time defending Ligue 1 champ to second place.
While the result at St. Jakob’s Park was straightforward, the final moments in Paris were nervy for the Gunners faithful.
Angel Di Maria levelled matters in the second minute of extra time courtesy of disastrous defending from the Bulgarian minnowbefore Edinson Cavani narrowly missed a stunning match-winner. It wasn’t to be for PSG, though, and Emery will feel aggrieved that he let a golden opportunity to top the group slip by the wayside.
Even with PSG’s capitulation, the day was Lucas Perez’s.
His first was as much about Basel’s ineptitude defending as it was Arsenal’s fluidity, while the second was the result of Tomas Vaclik parrying a rebound directly into the Spaniard’s path.
Near carbon copies highlighted Arsenal’s superiority in attacking, though to the host’s credit, were it not for a lunging effort by David Ospina, the margin at the interval could have been one instead of two.
Perez scored a third goal two minutes after the break, and Alex Iwobi bagged his first Champions League goal to cement a result that was hardly in question.
It’s the first time Arsenal has topped a group since 2011-12, and with six consecutive Round of 16 exits, the Gunners will hope to buck another trend in the new year.