Arsenal celebrated the 17th anniversary of Arsène Wenger’s appointment as manager by taking a giant stride towards the knockout stage of this season’s Champions League.
Their comfortable 2-0 win over Napoli at Emirates Stadium puts them in total control of Group F.
The Premier League leaders were irresistible in the opening 15 minutes. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey combined wonderfully to set up Mesut Ozil’s first goal for the Club. Then the German set up the Frenchman for No 2.
Arsenal would never quite regain that intensity but they dominated for the rest of the first half and opted for content containment after the restart. They did more than enough to retain the victory.
Wenger’s men have a perfect six points from their opening two games but Dortmund’s comfortable victory over Marseille means last season’s runners-up are hot on their heels.
In their next two games Arsenal visit and then entertain the German side.
They are tough assignments but so far, Wenger’s men and thriving in the so-called Group of Death.
Wenger’s team showed two changes from the one that had secured a ninth straight win at Swansea at the weekend.
Tomas Rosicky had recovered from his hamstring problem to start his first game since September 1. Mikel Arteta began only his second match of the season. Jack Wilshere and Serge Gnabry dropped to the bench.
Both of these two teams had won on matchday one. Therefore a victory would send them three points clear at the top of Group F and more than halfway to the double figure tally normally required to qualify.
Arsenal began at a gallop and were quickly a couple of furlongs ahead.
In the eighth minute, Giroud expertly controlled Bacary Sagna’s ball down the line on his chest. The Frenchman then flicked it on for the overlapping Ramsey down the right.
The Welshman pulled the ball back to the far right of the area where Ozil had found a pocket of space. With expert technique and control, the German allowed the ball to run across his body and generated enough power and pace to beat Pepe Reina.
It terms of teamwork and footwork it was Arsenal’s goal of the season so far.
And, of course, it was Ozil’s first for the Club.
Mathieu Flamini tested Reina before, in the 14th minute, Arsenal doubled their lead.
The Frenchman robbed the ball following a Napoli throw-in by their own corner flag. Giroud exchanged passes with Ozil and stabbed home his sixth goal of the season.
To this point, Napoli had barely foraged their way into the Arsenal half. Miguel Britos did plant a header narrowly wide from Lorenzo Insigne’s corner.
But, soon enough, the home side were back on the front foot. Ramsey strode forward on two occasions but his efforts were blocked both times.
The Welshman and Ozil were running the game, causing countless problems down Napoli’s left side.
Ramsey darted through again but his shot was smothered. Flamini also had a couple of dips from distance.
Given that Napoli had a Serie A record of P7 W6 D1 L0 this season, this was a very impressive first 45 minutes.
Had Rosicky converted Giroud’s cut-back at the start of the second half then this game would have been over.
However, despite being under severe scrutiny, Napoli gradually found some confidence.
Arsenal had put their foot to the floor in the first 20 minutes and had barely eased off through the first half. Now it slipped off the pedal.
Wenger spotted the slide and introduced Wilshere for Rosicky on the hour.
Napoli pressed forward but Szczesny was rarely involved beyond caretaking and the Italians seemed more susceptible themselves.
In the 74th minute, Ozil’s ball was nodded on by Arteta for Laurent Koscielny at the far post. The defender made decent enough contact but Reina saved from point-blank range.
As the clock ticked away, Arsenal only tightened their grip on the game. Once again, the Mertesacker-Koscielny combination had stifled the opposition attack while Szczesny’s handling had been immaculate.
At the death, Giroud threw himself at an opportunity to score a third. But Arsenal had done enough.
This had been a tough assignment but Wenger’s men made it look easy.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (SRB)
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