Arsenal took another step towards proving that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with by defeating Napoli at the Emirates Stadium, 2-0. Many supporters and pundits chose this game as a litmus test to show how good of a team Arsenal really is, and Arsenal passed the test with flying colors.
In a game which wasn’t even close from start to finish, Arsenal dominated possession and shred Napoli’s defense apart with quick, crisp passing and movement. The first goal scored by Arsenal was definitely a sight to behold.
In the 8th minute, Bacary Sagna lobs the ball ahead to Olivier Giroud. Giroud, with his fantastic hold up play found Aaron Ramsey making a run down the right flank. Ramsey runs into space and cuts in towards the box. As he cuts in, he lifts his head and finds Mesut Özil making a run towards the box. He provides a precise cross to Özil, who passes the ball into the net with his left foot past Pepe Reina for his first goal scored in an Arsenal shirt. The build up to the goal exemplified the quick, crisp passing Arsenal displayed throughout the game.
Özil, who’s creative spark has helped transform the midfield into a creative powerhouse, also provided the assist for the second goal of the game.
In the 15th minute, Raúl Albiol failed to clear the ball and it deflected off Marek Hamsik into the path of Giroud. Giroud passes the ball to Özil, who made a run to his right. As Özil makes his run into the box, Giroud makes a looping arcing run towards the near post. Özil provides the cross and Giroud taps the ball into the roof of the net past Reina to put the game to bed. Özil combined well with Tomás Rosicky and Ramsey in midfield. Their passing and understanding of each other’s movements was superb and the chances created from their passing were top notch. If it wasn’t for a few missed opportunities, Arsenal could have easily been up by 3 or 4 goals.
Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta did a great job protecting the back four, especially Flamini. He may be the unsung signing of the season with his performances in the middle of the park. Signed on a free transfer, he has provided the protection and grit that Arsenal has needed the past few years in front of the back four. He was all over the pitch, breaking up Napoli’s build up play and breaking up their counter-attacks.
Giroud’s hold up play has also been superb all season, along with his goal scoring prowess. He scored his 2nd goal in the Champions League in the win over Napoli and has scored 6 goals so far in all competitions. Besides his improved goal scoring form, he has also taken strides in his hold up play. He’s great at holding off defenders with his strength, which allows him to hold on to the ball and link with the midfielders. He also knows when to shoot on goal and when to pass the ball to a teammate to create a scoring opportunity.
Overall, as a team, Arsenal had a masterful performance against a high quality opponent in Napoli. Napoli didn’t provide much of a threat throughout the game and their attacks were easily snuffed out by Arsenal’s defense.
Arsenal is now alone on top in Group F with 6 points. The next match will provide an even sterner test as they face the current Bundesliga leader and Champions League runner-up Borussia Dortmund. Like Arsenal, Dortmund currently have a rich vein of form and it will be another tough test for the Gunners. If they can produce a similar performance like they produced against Napoli and continue their run of good form, they should be able to earn a win or at least a draw. The goal to get out of this group is 10 points. So far, Arsenal has 6 points with four fixtures remaining in the group stages. I think it’s safe to say, Arsenal is more than half-way out of the group.
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