Friday, October 4, 2013

Arsenal 2 Napoli 0 (Champions League Group Stage Matchday 2)

For those who were yet to be convinced by Arsenal's win over Swansea, this game was supposed to be an acid test as to whether Arsenal are genuine title contenders. Their opponents are currently top of the Serie A table, having not lost a game, enjoying a fantastic run of form just like the north London club. An open, but tight game was expected with many predicting high-scoring draws. However, it turned out to be a comfortable win by the Premier League leaders. Arsenal's convincing defeat of a Napoli side seemed to have finally silenced the doubters.

Arsenal made two changes from the side who started in the 2-1 win at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. Rosicky came in for Wilshere, recovering from a hamstring injury, while Arteta started next to Flamini in the central midfield. The central midfield partnership looked too defensive, but it reflected Wenger's cautious attitude towards Napoli's counter-attack. Flamini was assigned for a special mission to keep Hamsik quiet and did a superb job of it. Ramsey started on the right wing in place of Saturday's fellow goal scorer, Serge Gnabry, who was left on the bench. The Welshman's poor performances as the right-back, except the one against Manchester City last September, made us sceptical about his position. In fact, he didn't find his form until he started playing alongside with Arteta in the central midfield. Despite our concern, our advanced midfield trio, Rosicky, Ozil, and Ramsey, kept swapping their positions, which made it hard for Napoli to contain them. Walcott's injury has opened the door to Gnabry, which is a like for like option. In addition to that, this night's display confirmed that Ramsey on the right wing was a more than feasible option.

Arsenal's first-half performance was outstanding. Their passing was quick and crisp, with their movements on and off the ball at their fluent best. We thought we hadn't seen Arsenal play like that for a long time. After the match, both Wenger and Szczesny expressed the same view. It was their best display for a long time. Ozil grabbed the headlines for his vision and skills, but Ramsey and Giroud were equally impressive.

However, many praised their second-half display even more for their professionalism. We wanted the team to go for a third goal to kill off the game completely because one goal conceded could immediately turn a comfortable game into a difficult one as we saw  against Swansea. Instead, the team had decided to keep a clean sheet and focused on their defence. Credit to them, Napoli showed some attacking intent in the second half which was really their only option, having gone 2-0 down as early as  the opening 15 minutes, but we didn't allow them to get into our box and they tended to be restricted to long range shots which Szczesney coped with easily

Some may say that the brilliant performance was only against an underperforming Napoli side. However, there is no doubt that Arsenal's outstanding display made the Serie A leaders look average. They were reduced to just a bunch of haircuts under the Premier League leaders' authority. The Italian side may have missed Higuain's quality, (we were also missing a few players) but even if he had been on the pitch, Arsenal's defence would probably have cut off supplies to him like they did.

Six points out of the first two games in the group stage put Arsenal in a strong position to qualify for the knock-out stage. It's still early days, with 12 points remaining to play for, but when the draw was made, who would have thought we would be in this position. Wenger reckons that 10 points will secure the qualification (more precisely 10.2 points). With a win out of the forthcoming double header against Dortmund, we could secure our place in the knockout stage as early as on 22 October, provided other results go our way.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
As he said that he was bored in the first half, he had little to do in this game. However, he came off the line to claim the ball more often in this game. A good sign of improvement.

Sagna: 7

Reliable defensively, helped attack. Picked up a hamstring injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined for three weeks. Would this be an excuse to exempt him from the international duty? It is a blow as the Frenchman seemed to have come back to his best before the double ankle breaks, but it will give Jenkinson a chance. The Englishman should be capable enough against West Brom and hopefully, Sagna will return after the international break.

Mertesacker: 8

Top passer of the team, making 80 passes with a 96% accuracy.

Koscielny: 8

Unlucky not to score. 

Gibbs: 7

Didn't put foot wrong.

Flamini: 9
Outstanding. He even tried a couple of shots, one of which was on target, but what makes him so special is his determination and fighting spirit.

Arteta: 7

As well as Rosicky, he also looked a little short of sharpness. On the other hand, his passing rates got back to his standard, making 75 passes with a 95% success rate.

Ozil: 9

Opened his account with a sublime goal in the 8th minute and set up a goal for Giroud by cutting back from the by-line.

Ramsey: 9

Set up a goal for Ozil with a pin-point pass, after making an overlapping run to receive the ball from Giroud on the right flank.  

Rosicky: 7
He looked understandably rusty as he only had one day of training after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Giroud: 9
His hold-up play and movement on and off the ball were excellent throughout the game. Scored his sixth goal of the season.


Wilshire: 7
63rd-minute substitute for Rosicky. Nearly set up a goal for Giroud in stoppage time. When Gibbs laid the ball for him to get behind the defence line, he failed to make a run. If he feels his goal-scoring stats "embarrassing", he shouldn't miss this kind of chances.

Monreal: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 88th minute to see out the victory.

1 comment:

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