In an open night of football, Arsenal beat Napoli 2-0 in their Europa League quarter-final.
It was an exciting match and gives the Gunners a huge advantage as they head into the lion’s den of the Stadio San Paolo next week for the second-leg. What did we learn?
1. Aaron Ramsey’s Farewell Tour keeps on rockin’
As if freed from the pressures of yet another season at Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey’s agreement to join Juventus in the summer has liberated the Welshman. Suddenly, knowing he’s on the out and every game will be his last with Arsenal at that ground, or at that stage.
This, for instance, was his last-ever quarter final home-leg with Arsenal; and he really put on a show. This one had all the hits. Those classic Ramsey tunes that have enraptured fans for the last decade.
Dynamic runs forward, bursting into the box, delicious finishes under pressure, hard-work defensively, running with the ball, playing a key part in quick-passing counters, there was even a glaring miss just to round things out. It was the kind of show that will make Arsenal furious that they’re going to lose him for free in the summer.
2. Magnificent Mesut’s Masterclass
Mesut Ozil catches more scorn than most players. Debate rages over whether or not he’s actually good or if his quality is enough to justify his so-called lazy attitude. But here’s the thing: Mesut Ozil is brilliant, he’s just very brilliant in a specific kind of way.
He’s a specialist, essentially. And there are many situations where he is unsuited, and his problem is that Arsenal don’t build around him and unintentionally force him into the situations where someone of his skill-set isn’t necessarily useful.
Tonight, Unai Emery got it spot-on. Ozil was the no. 10 in a free-flowing attacking system with two intelligent and mobile forwards ahead of him and dynamic midfielders who are capable of smart forward runs behind him as well as permanent width with wing-backs.
No player in the first half of Arsenal vs. Napoli gained possession more times (6) than Mesut Özil.
But… but… but. ? pic.twitter.com/8C6TdGJnc9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 11, 2019
This is basically the ideal scenario for Ozil and he thrived accordingly. Both with the ball where much of Arsenal’s great attacks ran through him buyt also defensively where he, and brace yourself, set the tone defensively and recovered the ball a remarkable 7 times, a number only Elseid Hysaj could top on the night. A m
3. Wasteful Napoli
Yet and still Napoli should have scored at least once. They had two golden opportunities, first late in the first half José Callejón made a great run down the right into space and then cut a low pass back into space for sharpshooter Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian has 60 goals across the last four season (13 so far this campaign) yet blazed the ball miles over the bar. A huge chance wasted.
In the second half, Insigne turned provider for Napoli’s second chance as Piotr Zielinski somehow punted it over from six yards out. Insigne had put it on a plate for him and the Pole dove with his right and the ball flew up into the air and over the bar. A staggering, inexplicable miss. So whilst Napoli didn’t play well, they actually had the chances to come away from their trip to North London with an invaluable away goal. Instead they return to Naples looking to overturn a huge 2-0 deficit.
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4. The Goodison Debacle was justified
Arsenal’s loss at Goodison Park at the weekend was pretty shambolic. The Gunners were fortunate to only lose 1-0 but nevertheless the defeat saw them drop crucial points in the top four race. The cause for the woe was that Unai Emery rested key players ahead of this tie with Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench and Laurent Koscielny didn’t play at all.
Well, that decision has now been justified. It’s a huge risk to bet everything on one game like Emery did, but his players responded and the extra rest appeared to have helped many members of the side in particular Aaron Ramsey who was electric.
Obviously Arsenal would have rather won both games, but a 2-0 home win against an impressive Napoli side is a huge achievement. That clean sheet in particular gives the Gunners a great base to try and qualify for the semi-finals next week.
5. Arsenal away omens
As good as Arsenal will be feeling right now, the spectre hanging over things right now is that the second leg is away from home. Sure, Arsenal were great tonight and it was their 21st win at the Emirates this season. They have failed to win on just six occasions. Three draws, three defeats. They’re imperious at home.
Meanwhile away from North London, Arsenal have won just nine times all season; with only two of those wins coming in 2019 (and one of those being against lower-league Blackpool and the other being against the terrible Huddersfield). Meanwhile they have drawn 4 times and lost a staggering 8 games away from home, five of which have come since the turn of the year.
Napoli are ridiculous at home. Only one side has won in the San Paolo all season (Juventus) and they’ve won sixteen times besides that. The atmosphere is ferocious and the crowd will be well up for destabilising the Gunners. Now, sure, Arsenal have never blown a 2-0 lead in Europe before; but with their away form being as ropey as it is and Napoli being as good as they are (they really should have scored tonight) that record could well be tested in a week’s time.