2 Napoli 0 – 1Ö/1Ö Performance As Momentum Continues
was the toughest, non-shadowy, test of the season to date and Arsenal passed it
with flying colours as we beat Napoli 2-0 to go three points clear at the top
of our Group in the Champions League.
And it was never in doubt. Completed in exceptional style
and in each half Arsenal displayed different yet essential team qualities that
ensured Napoli didn’t have a hope of taking anything away from the Emirates
Stadium, aside from only further heightening their thug-like reputation.
Arsene Wenger, celebrating his 17th birthday as
manager of the club, made two changes to the side that beat Swansea City on
Saturday with Mikel Arteta coming in for Jack Wilshere, and Tomas Rosicky also
returning in place of Serge Gnabry. Rosicky started on the left with Aaron
Ramsey on the right, and Arteta sat alongside Mathieu Flamini in the holding
position of midfield.
We flew out of the blocks early on and the game was
seemingly done inside 15 minutes, before the visitors barely had a chance to
keep the ball, as two Arsenal goals of extreme quality were enough to secure
Mesut Özil scored his first for the Club in the eighth
minute to give us the lead, gently and effortlessly caressing the ball home
with the inside of his left boot from the 18-yard line, after Olivier Giroud
and Ramsey combined well down our right hand side to create the opportunity. It
was technical supremacy from the German and a wonderful fast-moving goal that
the Invincibles would’ve been proud of.
Özil then turned provider for the second as Napoli gave the ball away far
too easily deep in their territory, allowing our record signing to drive down
the right towards the goal line before neatly picking out Giroud with an inch-perfect
pass for the Frenchman, in amongst several Napoli defenders, to finish from
After this, goal-scoring chances were few and far between,
although Ramsey had a close range shot blocked later in the half. Napoli were
reduced to shooting from distance as Arsenal’s defence held firm; their best
chance coming from a free kick that Jose Callejon should’ve worked Wojciech
Szczesny from but sent it over the bar.
Napoli, obviously bollocked into action at half time, grew
into the game after the break and saw a lot more of the ball, as Arsenal went
through the motions in order to see the game out. Defensively we were composed
and organised and the visitors failed to create any real opportunities, mostly
again shooting from distance high and wide and only managed one shot on target
all night which was of no trouble to Szczesny.
Arsenal had a chance to score a third as Laurent Koscielny
forced Pepe Reina into a fine save from close range following an Özil free
kick. Then the game ran out with little action of note, allowing Wenger to
bring on Nacho Monreal for the ever-impressive Ramsey, after Wilshere came on
for Rosicky on the hour mark.
It was as complete an Arsenal performance as I’ve seen for
years and we gave Napoli, a team second and currently unbeaten in Serie A,
absolutely no opportunity all evening and ran them into the ground in the
opening exchange with an attacking master class spearheaded by Özil.
His ability is just breathtaking and the more and more I watch
him, the better his value looks compared to some of the extortionate,
overinflated transfers we’ve been witness to in recent times. The combination
between Özil and
Ramsey has taken off better than anyone could’ve imagined and their form, added
to that of Giroud up front, is seeing us back to some of the great attacking
football Arsenal became known and loved for last decade.
And credit for that must go to Wenger and his coaching
team. They’ve often had a hard time in recent years with
criticisms coming from pundits and fans alike, a lot of it warranted but some
of it not so, but there’s no denying that last night they got everything spot
on in terms of tactics and team selection.
Our defensive organisation and management is magnificent,
testament to the authority of Per Mertesacker at centre back but also of how
we’ve gelled there as a unit with competition for places, particularly at full
back, a huge positive right now. The influence of having holding midfielders in
front in the mould of Flamini and Arteta, both of whom were excellent last
night, is an added benefit and the confidence of our back line is as high as I’ve
seen it for years.
It’s clear that a lot of work has been done in that area,
and although it did at the end of last season as we limped over the line to
finish fourth, this season it hasn’t come at the expense of our attacking flair
as we now boast a line up to rival any other in the League. And to think that
this is the standard of football we can play without the likes of Santi Cazorla,
Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, it’s hard to not be excited about what we’re
capable of this season, with other rivals stumbling here and there.
The toughest test so far has been passed, and after a
fantastic September we enter the month of October that presents us with three
very winnable League games, starting with West Bromwich Albion away (again) on
Sunday, plus tough cup ties against Borussia Dortmund in Europe and Chelsea in
the Capital One Cup.
As I mentioned after Swansea on Saturday, I maintain that
we’ll know a lot more about our prospects once the next six weeks have passed
and we’ve come up against the aforementioned sides as well as Liverpool and Manchester
United at the beginning of November.
But that’s no reason to take the shine off the fact that
right now, this is a very happy place. Our current run of form is nothing short
of sensational, and let’s hope we can carry it on at The Hawthorns on Sunday.