Arsenal v Napoli
UEFA Champions League
Kick off: October 1, 2013 7:45 PM BST
With tonight being arguably Arsenal’s toughest test of the season so far, tensions were high. With a slight sense of apprehension being smothered by sheer excitement over our current form. Napoli getting the win against Dortmund in the first round of games meant that a win tonight would put us comfortably at the top and in control of our group. And with Napoli’s star signing Gonzalo Higuain out injured, it was looking positive.
We saw two changes from the team that played Swansea at the weekend, with Mikel Arteta and the returning Thomas Rosicky coming in for Jack Wilshere and Serge Gnabry. I was fairly sceptical about this lineup initially, as it meant that Rosicky and Ramsey were being pushed out wide, essentially giving us five midfielders and no real wide men. I also wondered how changing positions would effect the form of our Welsh superstar.
I almost immediately bowed my head, apologising for ever doubting Wenger. The opening minutes being some of the best free flowing, attacking football I have seen from any team in a long time. From the off we were getting right at Napoli, creating chance after chance, and it wasn’t long before we took one. Some fantastic hold up play from Giroud on the right allowed Ramsey to overlap and run onto the Frenchman’s flick on. Ramsey looked up and picked out Özil at the edge of the box with an excellent cut back, who side footed it first time towards the near post, putting it past Reina with a superb finish. Some great play for Özil’s first Arsenal goal, and showing that Ramsey’s form was not going to be impacted by him being pushed out wide.
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Napoli were unable to get any kind of hold on the game, simply defending wave after wave of attack. With Arsenal playing such a high tempo and pressing well, a poor clearance fell to Özil who showed good feet to ghost past two players and get to the byline. Giroud made a great run and got in front of the defenders, where he was picked out by his German team mate and put it away for a two nil lead.
After twenty minutes the Italian’s were finally able to get their first real spell of possession, but still weren’t able to cause us any real problems. The fluidity of play was unfortunately broken up a bit over the next fifteen minutes, with a number of small, unnecessary fouls being given. This didn’t do much to help Napoli however, and they were kept at arms length offering nothing but a few wild long shots, rarely troubling Szczesny.
Just before half time Giroud showed some excellent footwork on the touchline to get past two players and cut it back to Rosicky for a relative tap in, the Czech international wasn’t at his best tonight though, and he completely missed the ball. Arsenal still went into the break two goals in front though.
The second half was far more subdued, with Arsenal seemingly happy to control the game and let Napoli do the chasing. Rafa Benitez’s side were offering very little going forward and seemed like they were just going for damage limitation. Szczesny rarely got a touch of the ball, and when he did it was a pass back from one of his defenders.
We created a few chances, but didn’t seem to be pushing the boat out. With so many injuries at the moment, when we have control of a game it’s very sensible to lower the tempo and keep the ball a bit more; not wanting to run our fit players into the ground.
Our best chance of the second half came when a corner was recycled and put back in by Özil, Arteta got his head on the ball and flicked it on to Koscielny who struck it towards goal. Under pressure from defenders and off balance his connection was poor however, and Reina was able to pull off a decent reaction save to deny the French centre back.
Arsenal saw out the rest of the game comfortably, keeping our first clean sheet in several games, and putting us 3 points clear at the top of our group. If we can keep up this form against Dortmund then we will be in a fantastic position to top the group, and as Wenger has often done before, could rest a number of key players for the final game in the return leg against Napoli.
With a couple of players coming back from injury it’s great to see our bench starting to look a lot healthier. Wilshere did well when he came on today, and we have really missed that impact from our substitutes recently. With the likes of Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski and the Ox on the horizon, it’s looking good for Arsenal’s fantastic form to continue long into the season.
on the performance…
I am delighted of course because it was a very enjoyable game tonight with a fantastic first half, played at a great pace with belief, authority in our game, great finishing, great movement. Overall, that’s the game we want to see. The second half was a bit more handbrake-ish, a bit more cautious, but we played more not to make a mistake than to score. But in patches, when we went forward, you could see that the third goal was there if we really went for it.
on what Ozil has added…
I think he is like the team. He had an outstanding first half where you had everything you want to see from a great player – individual skill, team play, finishing, final ball… just sit there and enjoy it. I loved him as well in Madrid, I thought he was great in Madrid, and we are just lucky to have got him. I believe as well that he enjoys playing football and you could see that. He enjoys to play with his partners, he has integrated very quickly into the team, with the mentality. He came as well in a period where we are doing well and that maybe made it easier.
on Ozil lifting the Club…
At the moment, yes. You know, we got so much stick at the start of the season that I am a bit cautious! So at the moment… of course he gave a lift to everybody around the Club, and belief as well. Belief is part of success in football as well.
on when Arsenal last played this well…
I don’t know. Certainly at home, it is one of the best halves we have played for a long time. But as well I think in the Champions League, the games you see are a bit different. I would be tempted to say last time we played Barcelona here, but when you play in the Champions League at home, the teams come and try to play as well. In the championship, in the Premier League, most of the time you are against a team that defends, that waits for you, so you have to be patient. Tonight, in the Champions League, it was a bit more [of an] open game.
on the prospect of winning trophies…
We are here for that. As I told you yesterday in the press conference, there is a long way to go. But we have a good basis, we have belief, we have a good spirit, let’s just focus on the next game and continue to enjoy playing together.
on leaving out Jack Wilshere…
Of course it was difficult. But I do not want to overload him. He comes back for a long time, he has given a lot on Saturday, and I decided that [to leave him out] very late today. With him I am a little bit more cautious than I was before.
on Arteta’s return giving him options…
Of course. You cannot play with 11 players with all the games we have in front of us. It is important that I rotate without losing the balance of the team. When Cazorla comes back, Podolski, Chamberlain, we have of course options in midfield. Tonight I played Flamini and Arteta because Flamini had a job to do on Hamsik a lot, and he did that very well. Napoli are very dangerous going forward on counter-attacking, and I felt we stopped them very well from doing that.
on Flamini’s influence…
You don’t want to compare [with Ozil] but he gives us a balance in the team and he gives qualities to the team that are needed, that is for sure.
on being in a position to qualify…
Yes but we play Dortmund now. The group looks very tight because Dortmund won tonight so the key game will certainly be us against Dortmund here in the next game.
I think they maybe suffered in the first half and they chased the ball a lot in the first half and that took a lot out of them. They didn’t give up in the second half, I just felt in the last 15 minutes they were tired. But once you are 2-0 down away in the Champions League, as long as you don’t come back to 2-1, it’s difficult. But they are a very good team. I count Napoli as well, it will be a difficult trip for us to go to Napoli, certainly it will be of course a big fight.
on winning being a habit…
Look, it’s a nice habit to have. I’ve had experiences in my life where we did win a lot, and other experiences as well of course. But unfortunately if you stay long enough in this job you don’t always win.
Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker Gibbs
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