Basel 1, Arsenal 4
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger savoured a clear conscience after his team gave themselves the best chance of avoiding another horror last-16 draw by snatching top spot in their Champions League group on Tuesday night.
The Gunners’ comfortable victory over Basel in Switzerland, secured by a Lucas Perez hat-trick and Alex Iwobi’s strike, coupled with Paris Saint-Germain’s shock draw at home against Ludogorets Razgrad saw Wenger’s men pip the French champions to first place.
It means that Arsenal will swerve fellow group winners Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the first knockout stage and are also likely to dodge Italian giants Juventus.
And while they could still face Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, their manager insists that, unlike in previous seasons, a tough draw on Monday will not prompt a bout of self-reproach.
“It’s difficult to know [the consequences of topping the group] but you feel a little bit less guilty if you have a bad draw when you’re first than second," Wenger said.
“At least we have done our job and let’s see what happens. We did the job in a convincing way, were mobile, started very well, scored goals on all our accelerations, and overall had a convincing performance.”
Wenger also praised the poacher’s instinct of summer signing Lucas, who struck his first treble for the club in only his fourth start since a £17m transfer from Deportivo La Coruna.
“He took advantage of the fact we created good chances, but he’s a goalscorer,” Wenger added. “He scored over 20 goals in Spain and that’s never coincidence. He has shown he has a good smell for the goal in the box.”
Arsenal owed much to PSG’s surprise 2-2 draw with Ludogorets, yet winning their group for only the second time in seven years will lift hopes of navigating the last 16 for the first time since 2009-10.
Gibbs the provider
So too will the effectiveness of fringe players such as Lucas, who tapped in twice from almost identical positions at the back post inside the first 16 minutes – both times after Kieran Gibbs left-sided raids.
Gibbs was again the provider when Lucas completed his hat-trick just after half-time, running onto a full-blooded pass that Alexis Sanchez failed to tame and firing low across goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
Mesut Ozil pulled back for a relieved Iwobi to net his first of the season on 53 minutes, and Basel substitute Seydou Doumbia denied the visitors a clean sheet with a dribble and dink late on.