Sunday 16 June 2019

Superb Arsenal deliver but away woes leave tie in doubt

Arsenal 2 Napoli 0

Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s first goal against Napoli at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s first goal against Napoli at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Miguel Delaney

To arrive at the Emirates Stadium these days is to enter a footballing bear pit and Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli were the latest victims to be mauled by Arsenal's combination of speed, precision and attacking guile.

On their own patch, Unai Emery's side appear nothing short of unbeatable right now and there was a sense of purpose to everything they did on a night when the second-finest team in Italy were left scrambling for survival in this Europa League quarter-final.

It was in a furious first half that Arsenal did the damage, propelling themselves into a healthy first-leg lead thanks to a sumptuous strike from Aaron Ramsey and an own goal from Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly - a high-class defender made to look severely out of his depth.

There were so many positives for Emery to take from this showing, but let us not pretend there is no caveat: their away form has been so dreadful of late that it is easy to wonder whether a two-goal lead will be enough to take to Italy next week.

Needed

Recent performances on the road had made clear that Arsenal needed to win here.

Napoli's Nikola Maksimovic in action with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Napoli's Nikola Maksimovic in action with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Emery accepted as much beforehand.

His side, therefore, did their job in that sense, in largely swashbuckling style, but there were enough moments of promise from Napoli to suggest the second leg is a long way from being a done deal.

A manager as wily as Ancelotti would have known what was coming from Arsenal, who fielded the full triumvirate of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack.

The football was going to be fast, intense and aggressive.

Arsenal's Sead Kolasinac (right) and a Napoli's Elseid Hysaj (left) and Jose Maria Callejon battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal's Sead Kolasinac (right) and a Napoli's Elseid Hysaj (left) and Jose Maria Callejon battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Stopping it is another matter, though, and Napoli were unable to cope with Arsenal's blend of imagination and speed in the wonderfully entertaining early exchanges.

Ramsey's opener, when it came, was a spectacular embodiment of Emery's style. The passing was precise, quick and devastatingly direct.

Ozil found Lacazette, who then picked out Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The subsequent touch for Ramsey, crashing into the box, was weighted to perfection.

The Welshman had begun brilliantly, again, and he was helped by the boisterous Lucas Torreira, who promptly started and finished the move that brought Arsenal's second goal.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has a shot on goal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has a shot on goal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Having won the ball in midfield, Torreira twisted past Fabian Ruiz before watching his low shot bounce off Koulibaly and drop softly into the Napoli net.

The two-goal lead was fully deserved for an opening 25 minutes of such relentless vigour.

Aubameyang went close to a third, as did the whirling Lacazette, while the gliding Ozil, very much in the mood, could be found flipping the ball over sliding Napoli defenders with all the disinterested nonchalance of a postman delivering the morning mail.

Throughout all this, the meticulous Emery would not have needed reminding of Napoli's threat on the counter.

A horrific miss from Lorenzo Insigne, shooting over from Jose Callejon's cut-back, made it clear that the Italians did not intend to lie down and take the pummelling for much longer.

A worse miss was still to come for the visitors. Piotr Zielinski was free at the back post, barely 10 yards from goal, when he spooned a pitiful shot over Petr Cech's bar.

By then, though, Arsenal should have been further ahead, with Maitland-Niles, Aubameyang and Ramsey wasting agonisingly clear chances to add what may have been an all-important third. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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