Basle 1-4 Arsenal: Lucas Perez's hat-trick secures win in Basle
Arsenal head into next Monday's Champions League round of 16 draw with no regrets after Lucas Perez's hat-trick secured a superb win in Basle to see Arsene Wenger's side finish as surprise winners of Group A.
Wenger gave his side just a 10 per-cent chance of advancing top of the group but that is exactly what happened as rivals Paris St Germain only drew at home to Ludogorets to open the door for the Gunners - and they forced their way through it with an emphatic 4-1 win in freezing conditions.
Arsenal went into the final matchday almost certain of advancing to the round of 16 as runners-up for the fourth straight season - knowing even victory in Switzerland would not be enough if PSG picked up an expected win.
But Wenger's men duly delivered a hammering 4-1 win courtesy of Perez's hat-trick and an Alex Iwobi effort, with Basle surrendering tamely and only striking a late consolation through Seydou Doumbia.
And remarkably, Ludogorets pulled off a surprise result some 250 miles away in Paris, meaning Arsenal go into Monday's draw as winners.
Although they could still land the likes of Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, at least Wenger knows he did all he could to avoid the big boys and looks to progress into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.
The Frenchman brought a strong squad and played the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in clash at a bitterly cold St.Jakob-Park.
Arsenal set about their task early on and it was Sanchez who crafted the opening goal for Perez, lofting a perfect pass to Kieran Gibbs, who squared for the Spaniard to tuck home his maiden Champions League strike.
His second followed eight minutes later, this time Ozil playing in Gibbs and Perez stuck away his second, again from point-blank range, after the England full-back's drive was pushed out by Tomas Vaclik.
Basle skipper Matias Delgado headed over when well-placed but it was Arsenal who went in two goals to the good, with the news from Paris no doubt filtering through the away dressing room.
And they wrapped up their three points just two minutes after the restart as Gibbs' heavy pass was missed by Sanchez but collected by Perez, who slotted home to round off his first Arsenal hat-trick.
The fourth came from another flowing move but this time it was Ozil who resumed his usual position of providing the assist, breaking in behind and squaring for Iwobi to finish from close range.
Wenger would have been nervous when Sanchez was fouled and went down in a heap, but the Chilean picked himself up to rattle the crossbar with the resulting free-kick.
Sanchez was replaced by Mohamed Elneny moments later, while Theo Walcott would be introduced in place of Ozil with a little over 15 minutes remaining.
Substitute Doumbia pulled one back for the hosts with a clinical finish, but Basle ended the night bottom of the group and miss out on Europa League qualification to Ludogorets.
For Arsenal, they advance with an unbeaten record from their six games and will be hoping the draw is kind to them when it takes place here in Switzerland next week.
The Gunners look set to progress as runners-up unless Paris St Germain fail to beat minnows Ludogorets at home, but manager Arsene Wenger will still be keen to take a victory in case a chance to top Group A emerges.
Here, wet look at some of the talking points ahead of the game at St.Jakob-Park.
With progression, albeit in second place, already assured and heading into the busy festive schedule, there is every chance Wenger could rotate his pack in Switzerland.
The Frenchman has a history for adding a number of young players to his side for this sort of fixture, with the likes of Thomas Cruise, Fran Merida and Kerrea Gilbert having been blooded in previous years.
Although the remote possibility of winning the group remains, it is likely some of the current crop of youngsters could get a run out alongside some of the players on the fringe of the first team at the Emirates Stadium.
FIRST THE WORST, SECOND THE BEST?
Wenger admitted ahead of last month's draw against PSG that topping the group was his aim and that he had felt "guilty" in the past when the Gunners landed a tough knock-out tie after finishing second.
In fact, Arsenal have not progressed as group winners since the 2011-12 season and have often struggled against a side from Europe's elite as a result.
But, this time around it could be slightly different as the likes of Porto, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Benfica are all also sitting second heading into the final match-day.
BASLE WILL NOT WANT TO BE BRUSHED ASIDE
While Arsenal are set to finish second in the group, there is plenty riding on this final Group A game for their hosts.
The reigning Swiss Super League champions currently sit bottom of the pile, with Ludogorets having the better head-to-head record following two draws between the clubs earlier in the competition.
Any positive result for Urs Fischer's side could yet see them leapfrog their Bulgarian counterparts and seal a place in the Europa League with a third-place finish.
XHAKA MUST PROVE HIS WORTH AGAINST HIS HOMETOWN CLUB...
Switzerland international midfielder Granit Xhaka became Arsenal's third-most expensive signing in history when he joined from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, having started his career at hometown side Basle.
The 24-year-old was likened to Bastian Schweinsteiger during his time in the Super League but has struggled to hold down a starting berth since he moved to Arsenal for a fee in excess of £30million in May.
Xhaka has started 10 games across all competitions so far but, having performed well in the 5-1 win at West Ham on Saturday, he and Wenger will be hoping this is the time for him to step up and show he can replace the injured Santi Cazorla.
...AND LUCAS PEREZ NEEDS TO SHOW WHAT HE CAN DO
With Olivier Giroud's fitness in question and Alexis Sanchez potentially getting a rest following his hat-trick heroics on Saturday, another summer recruit in Perez must also take his chance if it comes his way.
The Spaniard was signed from Deportivo La Coruna late in the transfer window and his slow start at the Emirates Stadium has not been helped by an ankle injury.
He is back in contention but was fairly anonymous in the recent EFL Cup defeat to Southampton, with the £17million acquisition having only scored a brace against Nottingham Forest since his arrival.
Belfast Telegraph Digital