When a team wins a match 4-1 playing such a scintillating brand of football, the whole team is likely to come in for praise. However, Thursday saw two Gunners rise above the rest to put on an absolute show for the fans in attendance at the Emirates Stadium. Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey showed up determined to make a difference, and the midfield duo almost stole the show. The German was in his finest form, his dribbling at its most deceptive and his vision a cut above the rest of the players on the pitch. Ramsey scored two for the Gunners but could have easily had a hat trick (or more) from all of the opportunities he had around the CSKA goal. Both players were too much to handle for the visitors’ 5 man backline, who were absolutely gashed by the precision and pace with which Arsenal attacked.
Choosing a Man of the Match between the two of them is like picking a favourite child, but it must be done. Aaron Ramsey was a bull in this match, charging from deep into the box, arriving at just the right moment to have a play on the ball. His first goal was well taken off of a very well placed cross from Hector Bellerin, but it was his second goal that stole the show. A spinning back heel chip over goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev off of an inch perfect Ozil dinked pass from just outside the area sent the crowd into a frenzy and will go down as perhaps his cheekiest to date. His signature pass, a line splitting half-space ball in behind for his target to cut in on from the flank, was on point against CSKA as well, with it often leading the Gunners into dangerous attacking moves. It was a truly epic performance from the Welsh international.
However, as any motor racing team will tell you, you can have a powerful engine (and as a tireless driving force from the midfield, Aaron Ramsey is most certainly that), but without a driver capable of getting the most out of his machine, success is not likely to follow. For the Arsenal attack, the driver has undoubtedly been Mesut Ozil this season. The German put on a virtuoso performance on Thursday night, ostensibly from his right sided forward/attacking midfield position, but in reality he was all over the final third, weaving at will through the CSKA low block. The Gunners struggled mightily earlier in the year when teams were packing men in tight behind the ball, forcing them to try and play through crowded lines, but that was not the case on Thursday. Ozil was the main reason why, his passes going through, over and around the hapless visitors, and when that wasn’t on offer, he would simply dribble past his marker.
Ozil finished with 5 key passes to compliment his 2 assists, but in real time it felt like twice as many. He was even responsible for Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty goal, as he did brilliantly to burst in on goal and draw the foul by a chasing defender. The ball managed to flow freely through the entire Arsenal team and yet somehow never too far from the World Cup winner’s feet, as he cast his spell over proceedings. Yes, he will paradoxically be criticised by the pundits following this display for not doing it on the biggest stages with Arsenal, but as the saying goes, you can only beat the team in front of you. On Thursday night, that team was CSKA Moscow. It was a great game for Lacazette’s confidence, and one of the best final third performances by a centre mid all season, but the honour ultimately goes to Mesut Ozil, without whom a lions share of the goals might not have been possible.