Unai Emery marked his 50th game as our head coach with a 1-0 win over Napoli on Thursday night, as we booked our place in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
But what did we learn from our commanding performance? Read on to find out...
AN ARSENAL CLASSIC
It’s 25 years since the Pet Shop Boys’ version of ‘Go West’ was adopted and adapted by Arsenal fans. ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ rang out during our run to the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup final in response to George Graham’s parsimonious defence and Ian Wright’s knack of nicking a goal. The song reached its apex in Copenhagen when Alan Smith was responsible for the ‘one’ against Parma. The song has never gone away but it was a surprise to hear it over the PA 10 minutes before kick-off at the San Paolo as the Napoli fans worked themselves into a frenzy. Satisfyingly, we heard it again around 45 minutes later as the travelling fans celebrated Alex Lacazette’s stunning free-kick.
LACA NOT XHAKA?
Speaking of Lacazette, you might have expected that Granit Xhaka would step up from 25 yards and fire one of his trademark blasts at the Napoli goal. He’s done it plenty this season - as Newcastle and Crystal Palace can testify. But you could tell by the angle of Xhaka’s run-up that perhaps this one would be Lacazette’s responsibility. Fair enough - he did win the free-kick himself. Anyway, Laca it was and Alex Meret barely moved as the net bulged behind him. A special goal and richly deserved for another tenacious centre-forward display from Laca, peppered with clever touches, strong hold-up play and willing running.
LOTTA E VINCI
The Napoli fans - most of whom were at the San Paolo an hour before kick-off - spent most of pre-match flexing their vocal chords. Drowning out the visiting fans with shrill whistles, mercilessly jeering our players as they came out to warm up… it was clear they were going to do their bit. As the players emerged for the game, fans held up banners reading ‘Lotta e vinci’ - in other words, ‘fight and win’. We’d heard a lot about “courage and intensity” from Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti in the build-up, and his team tried to put the wind up us. They were aggressive and attack-minded, but we were waiting for it and responded brilliantly. The fight came from both sides, but the win was just ours.
Unai Emery has now won 26 matches in the Europa League knockout stages - more than any other coach. And he deserves immense credit for masterminding this one. Unai found the perfect balance between defence and attack, keeping it tight at the back without conceding too much ground, while maintaining a serious goal threat at the other end. Lacazette and Aubameyang never let the Napoli back four switch off and we had particular joy down the left flank, where Kolasinac, Lacazette and Ramsey - while he was on - linked up well. Unai got it right in Europe once again; he’ll be relishing the chance to outmanoeuvre one of his old clubs, Valencia.