Arsenal on top in Europe as Lucas Perez sinks Basel
Gunners win their Champions League group for the first time in five years - but can they make it count?
Basel 1 Arsenal 4
There was rejoicing in the red and white side half north London on Tuesday night as Arsenal beat the odds to secure top spot in Group A of their Champions League group - the first time they had achieved such a feat for five years.
Their 4-1 thrashing of Basel, coupled with Paris Saint-Germain's inability to beat Ludogorets Razgrad meant the Gunners finished top of their Champions League group for the first time since December 2011.
In theory that should mean an easier fixture for Arsenal when the draw for the last 16 is made on Monday - a hurdle that the Gunners have failed to successfully negotiate since 2009-10.
And while Arsenal will avoid Barcelona and Monaco, their conquerors in the last two seasons, they could still be paired with some European powerhouses, including Bayern Munich, who knocked them out of the competition in 2013 and 2014, Benfica and one of Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid.
"We can still have a difficult draw," conceded manager Arsene Wenger. "But there's less guilt when you finish first in the group because you feel you have done your job and you play the second leg of the first knockout tie at home."
It's the first time that Arsenal have gone through a Champions League group stage unbeaten since 2005-06 (when they went on to appear in their one and only final) and when asked to explain their success, Wenger replied: "Our squad system has worked well since the start of the season."
It certainly functioned well against Basel with Lucas Perez the star of the show with a hat-trick in his first Champions League start for the Gunners. The Spaniard has had limited opportunities since making a £17m move from Deportivo La Coruna in August but handed his chance against Basel, he seized it, scoring twice in the first 16 minutes.
"The first two looked like quite easy goals, and were what we call tap-ins in England, but they were created by the team and you have to be there to finish," said Wenger. "The first goal is a real striker's goal. He scored more than 20 goals in Spain last season and he has shown why. He has an eye for goal and good movement in the box, which is why he scores."
Perez completed his hat-trick two minutes into the second-half, firing home from the edge of the penalty area and six minutes later a deft flick from Mesut Ozil allowed Alex Iwobi to add a fourth from close range. Seydou Doumbia scored a consolation goal late on as Arsenal eased off, withdrawing Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaaron Ramsey from the fray.
The travelling Arsenal fans were also following events in Paris where Ludogorets had taken an early lead against their hosts, only to be pegged back midway through the second-half by an Edinson Cavani equaliser. But the Bulgarian side soon restored their advantage with a goal from Wanderson, and though PSG made it 2-2 in stoppage time, they ran out of time in pursuit of the win that would have taken them top of Group A.
"We played some nice football and it's a nice night for us," reflected Wenger. "We came here and wanted to do the job, to play well and on top of that we were lucky with the Paris Saint-Germain result. It was a positive night."