Arsenal’s stylish, attacking football gives Benitez something to think about
Mesut Ozil scored the first, brilliantly, and then created the second for Olivier Giroud
Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil scores against Napoli during their Champions League match at the Emirates stadium in London last night. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Arsenal 2 Napoli: These are the moments when Arsenal’s supporters are probably entitled to dream a little.
Nobody wants to get too carried away when the nights are still mild and the first leaves have only just started dropping from the trees but it is exhilarating to see them playing with the slick, stylish passing that has been the signature of the great Arsene Wenger teams.
They won this game with the kind of ease that made it feel a trick of the mind that when the Champions League draw was made it was tempting to wonder whether this would be the year Wenger’s exceptional record when it comes to reaching the knockout stages would find a cul-de-sac. Instead, his team will go into their double-header against Borussia Dortmund enjoying the view from the top of Group F after winning their first two matches with something to spare. Arsenal have been re-invigorated and, while there always has to be caution, Mesut Ozil’s arrival has plainly not just brought them a player of some distinction, but a collective lift for his new team-mates.
Burst of dominance
Ozil scored the first, brilliantly, and then created the second for Olivier Giroud during a burst of dominance that left Napoli floundering inside the opening quarter of an hour. After that, it was probably just a surprise Wenger’s men did not add more goals against the team that finished second in Serie A last season and is occupying the same position this time around. The difference between these sides was actually greater than the score suggests.
Probably the best way to put it is that Arsenal feels like a happy football club. The crowd that has harangued Wenger, castigated various players and been caught up in so much of their own infighting is now watching in a place of contentment. Players who had previously lost their sureness of touch are bristling with confidence. Ozil is at the hub of it but this was also another night to see the improvement in Aaron Ramsey and the transformation of Olivier Giroud.
For long spells Napoli were simply outplayed, particularly in that early spell when Arsenal’s passing was a blur and the team that had beaten Dortmund in the last round were pressed into the kind of carelessness that must have been startling for a manager of Rafael Benitez’s achievements.
The second goal was a case in point, originating from a throw-in for Napoli close to their own corner flag. The left-back, Camilo Zuniga, broke one of the first rules of football by choosing to throw it horizontally from a defensive position rather than upfield. Miguel Britos, the most vulnerable member of Napoli’s defence, lashed the ball so hard at Marek Hamsik it bounced straight back off him to Giroud. The striker’s touch sent Ozil scurrying into the penalty area and Giroud had not stopped to admire his work. Sprinting to make up ground, bending his run and arriving with perfect timing, he was on the edge of the six-yard box when Ozil casually clipped the ball back into his path to sweep his shot past the exposed Pepe Reina.
Benitez must have been perplexed by his team’s defending because these were not isolated moments. On two more occasions before half-time, Britos’s dishevelled passing inside his own half left Napoli susceptible. Britos and Zuniga – experienced South American defenders, 28 and 27 respectively – were made to look out of their depth. Arsenal’s attacking football was as suave, stylish and penetrative as it has been for some time.
They were ahead after eight minutes with a move that typified their exuberance. Bacary Sagna floated a ball along the right wing. Giroud took it on his chest, controlled and then laid it into Ramsey’s path with the deftest of touches. Ramsey carried the ball forward then pulled it back to Ozil, running through the middle, and the German had the belief in himself to take the shot first-time when others would have wanted another touch. It was a harder skill than he made it look, catching it perfectly and picking out the right-hand corner of Reina’s goal.
Arsenal had eased off in the second half but it still needed a point-blank save from Reina to prevent Koscielny making it 3-0. All this with Jack Wilshere restricted to a substitute’s role.