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Champions League: Lucas hat-trick in Basel seals top spot for Arsenal

LONDON: Arsenal’s Spanish striker Lucas Perez seized his chance to shine with a Champions League treble as they outclassed Basel 4-1 away to steal the Group A top spot from Paris St Germain on Tuesday.

The Gunners enter the last 16 as group winners for the first time since 2011 and at least know they cannot face favourites Barcelona, who won their group, in the first knockout round.

Lucas, making only his fifth start since joining from Deportivo La Coruna for about 17 million pounds ($21.55 million)in August, struck twice from close range inside 16 minutes.

He netted again two minutes after the break to become only the sixth Arsenal player to score a hat-tick in the competition.

Alex Iwobi made it 4-0 after 53 minutes and it could have been even better for Arsenal as Alexis Sanchez rattled the crossbar with a fizzing free kick.

The St Jakob-Park crowd finally had something to warm them on a cold night when substitute Doumbia flicked in a consolation goal after a skilful turn in the area.

Arsenal topped the group with 14 points because PSG, on 12, were surprisingly held 2-2 at home by Bulgarians Ludogorets who qualify for the Europa League last 32 at the expense of Basel.

PSG would have guaranteed top spot had they won but instead had to snatch a last-gasp equaliser from Angel Di Maria.

COMMITTED PERFORMANCE

“I thought Ludogorets were a good side — they made a great result that helps us top the group, which was what we wanted,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

“We did the job in a convincing way, we were mobile and overall had a committed performance.

“I think (Lucas) Perez took advantage of the fact we created good chances – he is a goalscorer you know, he has shown tonight he has a good smell for the goal.”

Lucas’s only goals since joining Arsenal were a brace in a League Cup win over Nottingham Forest in September, since when he has rarely featured because of an ankle injury.

It did not take him long to double that tally though as Arsenal tore into their hosts.

Lucas opened the scoring after eight minutes when Sanchez’s chipped pass found Kieran Gibbs and his low cross was missed by Eder Balanta, giving the Spaniard the easiest of tap-ins.

Eight minutes later Arsenal were cruising when Gibbs’ cross-shot was parried by keeper Tomas Vaclik and Lucas swept home following a move involving 33 passes – the most in the build-up to a goal so far in this season’s competition.

Basel captain Matias Delgado wasted a chance to halve the deficit shortly before halftime with a wayward header.

Vaclik was then unable to keep out Lucas’s shot two minutes after the break as the Arsenal striker emulated Mesut Ozil’s hat-trick in a 6-0 home win against Ludogorets in October.

Iwobi’s close-range goal was his first in Europe.

The news got better for Arsenal as the scoreline filtered back from Paris where Ludogorets, who twice led, held on for a draw that left PSG resigned to second place.

All eyes will be on the draw now as Arsenal will hope their reward for topping the group is not a tie with Bayern Munich who could only finish as runners-up in Group D.

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