We defied our terrible away form to earn a huge win in Napoli to earn our Semi-Final spot in the Europa League with a supremely professional performance.
A first half free kick from Alexandre Lacazette gave us a crucial away goal and sucked the fight from the home team, and we dealt with everything they threw at us. We were set up perfectly, and we fully deserved to book our progress to the next stage.
Boss Unai Emery made some interesting choices for this tough tie, and the old adage “attack is the best form of defence” was put into action, at least to a degree.
Both star strikers, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, were named in the eleven, and Aaron Ramsey was also selected, giving us a real edge going forward. We went with five across the back, but with Sead Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles at wing-back, we had the ability to go through the gears quickly on the flanks should we need to.
And we all expected Napoli to make a quick start in the search for the goal to up the pressure on us, but it didn’t materialise. Instead, we controlled the game for the majority and kept the dangermen quiet, although Insigne did get behind Monreal early, only for the passage of play to fizzle out.
The first real chance happened on the 17th minute and was a reminder of how brittle our position was. It came through a break forward from Koulibaly, and the hosts had a three on two, only for Callejon’s effort to be well saved by Cech.
Despite our encouraging start, the chance could have gone the other way and given us a real fraught 70 or so minutes. Napoli started to edge more into the game for a while, and the match began to take on the balance that we thought would happen – Napoli pushing for goals.
They had the ball in the net minutes later, but Milik’s effort was ruled out for offside – correctly. The striker then had a gilt-edged chance to get his side rolling – but he screwed his header horribly wide when well placed.
It was a choppy first half hour for the Gunners, but it was far from the backs-to-the-wall game that we thought we had in store.
And on the half hour mark, Laca made his mark – and put us closer than ever to the Semi-Finals. A free kick thirty yards out, the Frenchman put some curl on it and the keeper Meret was rooted to the spot as it fizzed past him, wrongfooted as he expected the ball to head to the other direction.
Cue jubilant scenes from the players, but minutes earlier Rambo had gone down after pulling his hamstring, replaced by Mkhitaryan.
Will that have lasting effects for our team for the rest of the season? Have we seen the last of Rambo in an Arsenal shirt? Can we look to the Semi-Final and know that we can take on anyone after this accomplished performance?
Here’s four things we can take from this game:
Our Away Form Is Down To Mentality
We have spoken so much on our terrible form on the road, but to come to the vociferous Stadio San Paolo and turn in such a professional display exhibits that we are much better than we have shown. We took the game to Napoli and invited them to come at us, and we dealt mostly comfortably with what they had to throw at us. Our defending wasn’t the panicky variety we have seen in the Premier League, and we kept the ball. It means our away form is not incurable – it’s simply confidence.
Valencia Up Next
The Spanish side have been resurrected over the last few years and they are now a very potent side full of young talent and vigour. They dispatched fellow La Liga side Villareal 5-1 on aggregate in the Quarter-Finals and will perhaps be just as threatening as Napoli.
Start Both Strikers!
Aubameyang spoke after the Watford game and expressed his desire to further his partnership with Laca. Both are on the same wavelength and offer different things, giving defenders nightmares to deal with the duo. They mean we carry more threat, and especially away, we could definitely do with more emphasis on attack. This needs to be the first choice if we are to navigate the rest of the season.
All Out for Europa League Glory
Our two European triumphs in our history – the 1970 Fairs Cup and the 1994 Cup Winners Cup, are of a lesser stature than the Europa League. It would be the biggest trophy we gave lifted, and a real signal we are on the way back. Also, it gives us that lucrative Champions League place we are pushing for in the Premier League. A cup final to lift a big trophy? That has to be the focus now.
Onwards for Arsenal, and the fixtures don’t stop coming. Next up, we host Crystal Palace at The Emirates on Sunday.
Well played boys! #UTA