Arsenal took a giant step toward progressing to the Champions League knock-out stage with a superb 2-0 victory over Napoli at the Emirates. After a win in Marseille on Matchday One, Arsenal are now in firm control of what was on paper the toughest group in this season’s competition.
Enthused with the confidence supplied by nine successive wins, Arsenal started in rampaging form. Despite making a fine start to their own season -- including a 2-1 victory over last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund -- Napoli were blown away by the home side’s intensity. After 15 minutes the score was 2-0, Napoli were shell-shocked and never really recovered.
Mesut Ozil, who both symbolically and with his dazzling play has played such a big role in Arsenal’s extraordinary run, was at the heart of things. It was the German playmaker who produced the moment of the match with a finish of exemplary technique to put his side in front with his first goal for his new club. Within no time at all he added yet another assist to his collection to set-up Olivier Giroud to double the lead. Both goals owed a debt to some shambolic defending from Rafael Benitez’s side, but the play of Arsenal was a joy to behold.
The pace expectedly dropped after the break as Arsenal took their foot off the gas. Napoli, though, despite having much more of the ball failed to create a single chance of note and in the end faded timidly to defeat. The side second in Serie A could point to the absence through injury of former Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuain, but it is hard to figure that the presence of the striker would have altered the result.
A further boost for Arsene Wenger on a perfect night came with a return to the lineup for Tomas Rosicky, which meant that Jack Wilshere could get some rest on the bench. Rosicky formed part of a fluid attacking midfield three alongside Ozil and Aaron Ramsey that Napoli struggled to contain in the early going.
The pace and movement proved too much for the visitors and the opening goal arrived just eight minutes in. Giroud held up the ball down the right before helping it down the flank for Ramsey to run into the space afforded by Juan Zuniga’s errant positioning. On his current form there was little doubt that Ramsey would pick out a fine ball, which he duly did to find Ozil on the edge of the box and the German produced a sublime finish to control a shot with power past Pepe Reina.
Napoli continued to be pegged back, struggling to make it out of their own half, never mind mount an offensive. There was a heavy sense of inevitability when Arsenal’s lead was soon doubled. This time Napoli’s defending was even more conspicuous in its failings. From a throw-in in their left-back slot, Miguel Britos smashed a wild clearance straight against Marek Hamsik, allowing Giroud to steal in, knock a pass to Giroud before making his way into the area to meet a delicate pull back from the former Real Madrid man with a simple finish from six yards out.
Napoli were eventually able to settle somewhat and stem the continual flow of Arsenal’s attacks. It was still a real struggle for the visitors, though, whose only threats to the Arsenal goal were a corner headed over Britos and Lorenzo Insigne snatching at a half chance to give Wojciech Szczesny a comfortable save.
As the opening period came to a close, Arsenal stepped things up once more and were looking in the mood to snatch a decisive third goal before the break. The outstanding duo of Ozil and Ramsey combined once more, but the Welshman’s effort was blocked.
Another goal might have arrived soon after the interval too. After Giroud was somehow allowed to get to the byline, Rosicky was just unable to make contact to turn the ball in at the near post. But Arsenal were aware that there was no longer any need to take any risks. Rather the home side took a safety first approach, seeking to control the ball and absorb whatever Napoli could throw at them. As it turned out, it wasn’t much.
With Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta providing an impressive double pivot of protection of the type Arsenal have not had in some time, Napoli were unable to prosper from their counter-attacking threats. The only meaningful efforts came from distance. Insigne curled over from 25 yards cutting in from the left, while substitute Dries Mertens shot comfortably into the hands of Szczesny from a similar position.
Arsenal were denied a third goal late on when Reina saved an effort from Laurent Koscielny from close range but their job had been done and their run goes on with their most impressive win yet.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.