Preview by Numbers: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 4

Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
Tuesday, November 1
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT

  • Match Officials from the Netherlands
    • Referee: Bas Nijhuis
    • Assistants: Rob van de Ven and Charles Schaap
    • 4th Official: Patrick Langkamp
    • Additional Assistants: Serdar Gözübüyük and Peter Janssen
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 6 - 0 Ludogorets
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L // D-W-W
  • Ludogorets's European Form: W-W-D-D-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 41 °F / 5 °C
Arsenal responded well to adversity on Saturday on Wearside; as has been mentioned in plenty of places, the Gunners went on to win 4-1 in a match in which they easily would have capitulated in previous seasons. In doing so, Arsenal have extended their unbeaten run to 14 across all competitions and remain in second place in the Premier League table, behind Manchester City only on goal difference.

As the calendar changes to the traditionally difficult month of November, Arsenal would do well not to look past each individual fixture on the list. They've got Tottenham at home at the weekend, then an international break, then Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Big fixtures for sure, but they've got business to take care of in Europe first, and a tricky trip to Bulgaria. Ludogorets do not play their home games in Europe at their own stadium, due to its small size (the stadium in Razgrad seats only 8800,) but Bulgaria's national stadium will still prove to be a difficult place to play. Throw in the 2,400 kilometers (that's 1,500 miles) of travel and it's clear this won't be a walk in the park.

What Can Arsenal Clinch Tonight?

If one of Arsenal or Paris Saint-Germain win tonight and the other avoids defeat, then both clubs will be through to the knockout phase. It cannot be one or the other, however; either both or neither will qualify tonight. 

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín ("a little incident,") Walcott (hamstring,) Monreal (muscle tightness,) Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

Lucas Pérez is now firmly in the "long-term injury" position now, having completed one week of his six to eight week absence. I'm going to slot him in for a cameo appearance off the bench in Arsenal's third round FA Cup tie at the start of January for his return and anything earlier than that would be delightful. He joins Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck as Arsenal's long-term absentees. If he and Danny Welbeck come back around the same time, which looks possible, Arsenal will have an interesting selection headache up top.

One of the things I like most about away days in Europe is that we're 100% certain about who is actually on the plane before I have to publish this preview, which means I have more information available to write this section than I usually do. To that end, Theo Walcott (hamstring) and Nacho Monreal (muscle fatigue,) who both missed the trip to Sunderland after sitting out the cup tie against Reading, will miss this match as well.

The bigger surprise among those not on the plane is Hector Bellerín, who took part in training on Monday morning, but is being left behind after what Arsène Wenger called "a little incident," which is really too cryptic for my liking.

Santi Cazorla remains out with an Achilles injury picked up in the reverse fixture. Granit Xhaka is available for a return to the side and we'll see how many minutes the likes of Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey might get.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Xhaka, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Alexis.

Ludogorets Squad News

Out: None

Once again, it would appear that Ludogorets have no injured players in their squad, which I guess leaves me free to talk about the Bulgarian language some more. While most Slavic languages have an extensive system of grammatical cases, noun declension has almost entirely disappeared in modern Bulgarian; only three cases remain and even these are only declined in pronouns. While Bulgarian has lost its declension, the case system still remains in a few situations; for example, the genitive is preserved only for masculine singular nouns.

Anyway, Ludogorets have started the same XI in the previous three group stage matches and, with no injuries, would not be expected to make any changes now. Natanael, however, remains one booking away from an accumulation ban.

Predicted XI: Stoyanov, Minev, Moţi, Palomino, Natanael, Dyakov, Anicet Abel, Wanderson, Misidjan, Marcelinho, Cafú.

Current Form

As I mentioned in Friday's preview, Arsenal carried a 13-match unbeaten run into the Stadium of Light back in 2009 and lost 1-0. This time around, they did not suffer the same fate, and extended that unbeaten run to 14 matches across all competitions. The last time Arsenal had a streak of this length, it was the start of the 2007/08 season, when Arsenal began the year unbeaten in 21 before losing at Sevilla in the Champions League on matchday five.

And perhaps that's a really important statistic to throw out here; you'll recall what happened in 2008, as Arsenal crumbled in the winter and finished third. It confirms what I've been harping on throughout this streak: titles aren't won in the fall.

Ludogorets have won three straight since their six goal loss in London; they beat Montana (not the state) 4-0 in a cup tie, as well as league wins over Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa (4-0) and Dunav Ruse (5-3). Like Arsenal, Ludogorets are in second place domestically on goal difference; the side from Razgrad are in second behind Levski Sofia. You might notice that this match is being played in Levski Stadium in Sofia, but this is the national stadium (the Wembley of Bulgaria, I guess,) not Levski Sofia's home stadium (it was prior to 1950, however.) But, I digress...

Match Facts

Arsenal's only match ever against a Bulgarian side was their 6-0 win over Ludogorets in the reverse fixture two weeks ago. The scoreline was a bit flattering in comparison to the performance; the Bulgarians had 57% of the possession but generated only two shots on target to Arsenal's 12. Still, David Ospina kept Arsenal in the match during a dodgy first half, but goals from Alexis Sánchez and Theo Walcott put the Gunners up 2-0 at halftime. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added the third just after halftime to put the match away, then Mesut Özil scored three for his first career hat trick.

Arsenal's record on the road in Europe has left much to be desired in recent years. The Gunners have lost three of their last five away from home in Europe, winning only at Olympiacos on matchday six last year. Before that, Arsenal had only lost twice in 11 away from home (at Dortmund in 2014 and Napoli in 2013.) As mentioned in the intro, if Arsenal want to win Group A, they're going to need to keep matching PSG's results: the French side already won in Bulgaria on matchday two and place in Basel tonight.

Ludogorets's matchday two loss to PSG was their first home loss of this European campaign; they previously had qualifying round wins over Mladost Podgorica and Viktoria Plzeň, as well as a draw with Red Star Belgrade. Back in the 2014 group stage, the last time the Bulgarians reached this stage of the competition, only Real Madrid won in Sofia; Basel lost and Liverpool drew.

The Referee

The match officials are from the Netherlands; the referee is Bas Nijhuis. Arsenal have seen Nijhuis once, for their matchday two implosion against Olympiacos at the Emirates last season. To be fair, Nijhuis didn't drop the ball into his own net like David Ospina did. Nijhuis has not worked a Ludogorets match before and the only match he's even worked involving a Bulgarian side was a Euro qualifier in 2015, which Bulgaria lost to Norway 1-0 in Sofia.

Nijhuis's most controversial moment came in December of 2011 in a Netherlands cup tie between AZ Alkmaar and Ajax. When an Ajax fan invaded the pitch and attacked AZ goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, Nijhuis sent off the goalkeeper for kicking the fan in self-defense. AZ's manager responded by pulling his team off the pitch and the match was abandoned.

Nijhuis has been a referee since the age of 15 and is also a full-time baker.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Beşiktaş v. Napoli; Vodafone Arena, Istanbul
  • Tuesday: Basel v. Paris Saint-Germain; St. Jakob-Park, Basel
  • Tuesday: Benfica v. Dynamo Kyiv; Estádio da Luz, Lisbon
  • Tuesday: Borussia Mönchengladbach v. Celtic; Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
  • Tuesday: Manchester City v. Barcelona; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Tuesday: Atlético Madrid v. Rostov; Vicente Calderón Stadium, Madrid
  • Tuesday: PSV Eindhoven v. Bayern Munich; Philips Stadion, Eindhoven
  • Wednesday: Monaco v. CSKA Moscow; Stade Louis II, Monaco
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Bayer Leverkusen; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Wednesday: Borussia Dortmund v. Sporting Club de Portugal; Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
  • Wednesday: Legia Warsaw v. Real Madrid; Polish Army Stadium, Warsaw
  • Wednesday: Copenhagen v. Leicester City; Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
  • Wednesday: Porto v. Club Brugge; Estádio do Dragão, Porto
  • Wednesday: Juventus v. Lyon; Juventus Stadium, Turin
  • Wednesday: Sevilla v. Dinamo Zagreb; Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, Seville
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is declined only in the accusative case. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to remind him that grammar jokes aren't actually funny.