Thursday, 3 October 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Napoli: A pleasant surprise

So, we are top of the Group of Death (heh) by convincingly beating Napoli by 2 goals to nil, courtesy of strikes from Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, in what was one of the finest performances that I've seen from this side.

Few would have predicted that Arsenal would waltz through a side which had so much class and recently defeated last season's runner-ups Borussia Dortmund. I myself was inclining towards a draw, because I knew that even though they were without Higuain, Napoli would still be a tough side to beat. I was also a bit worried that our inconsistent defence might be a reason for the sharing of the points. However, the quality Arsenal showed to outclass and dispatch a team of Napoli's caliber left me stunned at how I underestimated this Arsenal side.

The walkover began at 8 minutes through one of the finest Arsenal goals I have seen this season. Giroud, who had a cracker of a match, held the ball brilliantly and flicked it to the onrushing Aaron Ramsey, who found himself in a great crossing position. I never really thought that Ramsey could cut back such a perfect pass on to the path of Mesut Ozil, but his pass was gorgeous, and left Ozil to slam the ball home from just outside the box for his first Arsenal goal.

The goal was - there is no other word for it - perfect. It displayed some classy Arsenal passing, at the end of which was a fine finish from a world class player. The passing in particular was what I liked the most about the goal, which was direct and purposeful instead of tippy tappy and vapid. It was the perfect way to impose your authority on the game, an early goal at the end of a well-worked move to silence the away fans.

Before Napoli could regroup and get back into the game, the Gunners struck again, this time through Olivier Giroud. Some good pressure from Arsenal resulted in Giroud having the ball near the corner flag. Once again, he held the ball brilliantly to play it to Ozil, and as Ozil ran to the by-line with the ball, Ollie continued his run and finished off the move with a good strike, and finished off the game. I feel Giroud did deserve a goal for his all-round display, but heck, every Arsenal player played to the level of deserving a goal.

After the loss to Aston Villa, Arsenal have won 10 consecutive games which has led almost everyone to believe that the opening day defeat was nothing more than a blip. Pardon me to intervene, but the loss against Villa was well deserved, especially when it was at home and against a relegation threatened team, not to mention that we had almost our full strength squad out there. Since that defeat, I have always been critical of our defence, who looked nervy throughout the consecutive victories.

In the game against Swansea though, this team's defence seemed to have turned a corner. And against Napoli, the team's defence was as assured as it could be. We restricted a quality team to only one shot on target, which wasn't even remotely threatening to Wojciech Szczesny. The back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs are slowly becoming a rock-solid defensive unit, and the fact that a reliable defender like Gibbs is said to be the weak link in the team's defence clearly demonstrates how reliable this unit has become. If we maintain this sort of a defence, a trophy this season is all but guaranteed.

It was not just the back four though. Mathieu Flamini was once again at his best, all over the pitch making slide challenges and shouting commands. He was exactly what was required in the team, and kudos to Wenger for signing him when everyone else doubted and ridiculed his signing. If you ask me, he's going to be one of the signings of the season at this rate, and he is the player who deserves the captain's armband in the team.

I'm secretly glad that Ramsey's goalscoring streak has ended, because I wanted some of the pressure to get off him. In this game in particular, he was selfishly trying to get a goal for himself. That is not what you want from a midfielder, and while I enjoyed his goalscoring run to shut all the critics, it's good that the expectation on him to score regularly has lessened, so that he can focus more on the other aspects of his game.

All in all, it was a cracking performance from a team that seem to have gone on another level today, by facing a top team in Europe and making them look like kittens. Next up, we face West Bromwich Albion on Sunday at the Hawthorns, which will give plenty of time for the players to recharge their batteries. Fingers crossed that we can make it 13 away wins in a row.

Enjoy the day, Gooners, just like we enjoy watching the team we love.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )