Arsenal top Champions League at PSG's expense
For the first time in years, Arsenal look properly equipped to go far in Europe
|(Seydou Doumbia 78)||(Lucas Perez 8, 16, 47, Alex Iwobi 53)|
Christmas came early for Arsenal, and Paris St Germain came bearing gifts.
For the first time since 2011, Arsene Wenger will not be running through a long list of intimidating Champions League group-stage winners he hopes to avoid in the Round of 16.
For a change, the Gunners had the joy of watching their rivals choke on the European stage.
PSG, at home against minnows Ludogorets Razgrad yesterday morning (Singapore time), needed to merely match whatever result Arsenal could manage away to Basel in order to finish top of Group A.
But the Bulgarian outfit did not follow the script, forcing a shock 2-2 draw in Paris to pave the way for Arsenal to clinch first place with a 4-1 win over Basel.
With the group winners playing the runners-up in the next stage, Arsenal might have dodged a bullet.
They won't have to worry about Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco or Napoli for the time being at least.
At next Monday's draw in Nyon, their next opponents will be drawn from an easier pot consisting of Benfica, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, and one team each from the following pairings - Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund, Juventus or Sevilla, and Porto or Copenhagen.
Manager Arsene Wenger looked a relieved man when he spoke of feeling "less guilt" should his side still get a tough draw.
He said: "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."
Wenger was speaking from experience.
Arsenal have exited the competition in the first knockout phase for six consecutive years, out of which they finished second in their group five times.
On those five occasions, they went out to Barcelona (2016 and 2011), Monaco (2015) and Bayern Munich (2014 and 2013).
With PSG's unexpected slip-up, Arsenal's prospects in this season's competition suddenly look brighter than they have been in recent years.
Lucas Perez's hat-trick, before Alex Iwobi's strike completed a fine outing at St Jakob-Park, underlined the new-found firepower Wenger has at his disposal.
His side have fired in 18 goals in six Champions League matches, just two behind Barcelona who matched the 20-goal scoring record in the Champions League group stage.
In striker Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has the joint-top scorer (11 goals) in the Premier League.
France international Olivier Giroud provides a different option from the bench and, with Spaniard Perez back from injury and showing signs of hitting form, Arsenal's attack looks a force to be reckoned with.
At the back, the summer signing of Shkodran Mustafi has added much-needed steel.
There is also a growing resilience and maturity to their play that saw them grind out two hard-fought draws with PSG.
For the first time in many years, Arsenal look properly equipped for a European campaign.