Arsenal 2-0 Napoli | Time to take this Arsenal side seriously

Well, that was the best Arsenal performance I’ve seen since we beat Barcelona two and a half years ago. I’ve just spent 10 minutes looking through previous results to find the last time I was so impressed and I got as far back as that memorable night in February 2011 when Arshavin’s cooly taken winner defeated the mighty Catalans.

Funnily enough, Mesut Ozil’s opening goal tonight reminded me of the little Russian’s famous strike. For Nasri pulling the ball back across the area for Arshavin to calmly slot into the net, read Ramsey bursting clear to play the same pass for Ozil, whose expertly executed sidefoot finish went in at the near post after just eight minutes for a dream start.

Giroud’s part in the goal shouldn’t be overlooked as he held the ball up well before releasing Ramsey down the right with a clever flick. The Frenchman had a good game and got a deserved goal on 15 minutes when he laid the ball off to Ozil, sprinted into the six yard box and tucked away a perfect pass from ze assist-meister.

For the rest of the half we continued to terrorise a much fancied Napoli side, making them look very ordinary as they struggled to cope with the movement and intelligence of Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud. Every player looked motivated, we played at a very high tempo and worked hard all over the pitch to win the ball back on the few occasions Napoli had a spell of possession.

Ozil celebrates his goalOn a side note, it brought into focus just how important the signing of Ozil was. Of course it has added his class to the side, but it’s also raised the performance levels of the other players. You can see they are buzzing to be playing alongside a world class player and it has given the squad’s confidence and morale levels a massive lift. This kind of marquee signing has been long overdue (especially as money has been available to spend for a couple of years now) and played a big part in the disappointing campaigns of the last few seasons. But hopefully there are more such signings to come and we can really kick on from here.

So a highly impressive opening period came to an end and even though 2-0 was a scoreline many fans would’ve gladly taken, the truth is we could and should have scored more. I was, therefore, wary of a Napoli backlash in the second half, but it never came.

It’s fair to say Higuain was a big miss for Napoli, but the main reason they didn’t threaten a comeback was because Arsenal didn’t let them. I was impressed by our first half attacking display, but not surprised as I know we can turn it on on our day. But the way we comfortably contained a side as strong as Napoli in the second half was more pleasing because protecting a winning position is a part of our game that’s been lacking in previous seasons.

Wenger picked Arteta and Flamini to sit in front of the back four and take turns joining the attack whenever possible. Playing two disciplined midfielders gave our defence much more protection and had the added benefit of allowing Ramsey more freedom to get forward, which he did to great effect. I hope Wenger plays two ‘holding’ players in the midfield for future tough matches like this because it gives us a more solid look and in truth Szczesny didn’t have a save of note to make. We were professional and disciplined throughout and in the second half we sacrificed the opportunity to score more in order to protect what we had. We still had chances of course, but less so than in the first half as we slowly killed the game off.

Wenger must take great credit for this improvement. We look up for every match now, are happy to take our foot off the gas and see out a winning position instead of attacking at all times, and the players work hard when not in possession, pressing the ball high up the pitch.

This has been epitomised by Flamini, who has been as important a signing as Ozil in his own way. The Frenchman is disciplined, hard working and aggressive, always looking to break up the opposition’s attacks with a crunching tackle or a clever interception. We’ve needed him since Song left, although for me he’s a much better player who plays more for the team than himself — something that couldn’t always be said about Song.

So it’s the perfect start to the Group of Death and 10 victories in a row since the Villa debacle — what a long time ago that seems now! I feel the fixture list has been kind to Arsenal thus far and wasn’t getting too excited by victories over mediocre sides like Fulham, Sunderland, Fenerbahce and even Marseille. But Swansea was a test we passed well and Napoli are a real step up in class for whom Arsenal raised their game accordingly. To put it into context Benitez’s team are second in Serie A, unbeaten before tonight and they beat last year’s runners up Borussia Dortmund in Matchday 1 — but they were completely outplayed by Arsenal.

I don’t want to end on a negative note, but I’m still concerned about this side’s achilles heel — relaxing after receiving praise and therefore underestimating ‘weaker’ sides. We have West Brom, Norwich and Crystal Palace next in the league and I would hate to see us lower the effort levels for these matches as we did on many occasions last year. Wenger seems to have fixed most of our faults though, so hopefully this is no longer a problem and we can go on to enjoy more performances and results like this one.

This could be a very good season.

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  1. Kriss

    “But the way we comfortably contained a side as strong as Napoli in the second half was more pleasing because protecting a winning position is a part of our game that’s been lacking in previous seasons.”

    Yes that’s exactly what I said to my mate. I havent seen us look this mature since Wenger broke up the invincibles of 2004

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  2. DanS

    I too am very excited about the team’s return to form. But as you mentioned, they have a history of nodding off for “weaker” opponents. I think with Ozil though and the win streak, that might be in the past. I only worry the old man might get experimental in his team and formation choices for those games. He likes to fiddle against the smaller teams, and I’d hate to see the chemistry broken up. Though I wouldn’t mind seeing Giroud getting a bit of a rest or at least substituted earlier. Every time he gets a knock I get heartburn. It’s not like we are swimming in strikers. Sure Theo can fill in, and if given a multi-game chance, probably would make a great striker. But the moronic Dane is like an annoying uncle you have to suffer during the holidays. He’s worthless but no one else is interested in him, so we have t suffer his presence.

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  3. RoughChops

    @DanS, don’t worry about The Dane as he will score loads of goals given game time with the feeders we have now.

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  4. shanzuman

    Yes! Wow! I am as elated as I used to be in those early Wenger glorious years and yes he has at long last listened to all of us and like a true master at this game has started to turn the team around into a challenging side for all this year’s competitions. For me Ozil and Flamini have been the catalists in the progressively transformation of this team. They have inspired the youngsters (Ramsey in particular) and improved the newcomers of last season and as the writer says thay have raised the performances of all the team around them. I believe we have now formed the foundations to challenge for honours this season and also to enjouy watching the Gooners play a good solid game. Thanks Arsene for listening.

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  5. Colinski

    Shanzuman, I disagree. I don’t think Arsene has listened to all the moaners, I think he has been working on this team for a few years and just did not have the money to get the final expensive pieces (Yes pieces, as I think there will be 1 or 2 more expensive additions to the squad). Most of the players that are doing so well were not bought in the last transfer window, or the one before that, or the one before that. He has been counting on these players to mature and not leave. He has been hindered by lack of funds, and by key players leaving, but has still done better than can be expected. All the moaners are just people who did not have belief in Arsene’s financial and footballing wisdom. They forgot he was a brilliant manager. They are the last people to deserve any credit for anything.

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  6. Gooner Steve

    Colinski, I agree that his nurturing of (and faith in) the likes of Ramsey, Szczesny and Koscielny has been spot on. But that is just one of many factors in our improvement — the rest has been down to Wenger finally doing the bleedin’ obvious.

    Namely: buying world class players instead of selling them; having a disciplined CDM who actually protects the back four (not Song who constantly swanned upfield looking for his next RVP assist); having a sensible gameplan to protect a lead instead of recklessly trying to score more goals at any cost; and finally, acknowledging that defence is a vital part of the game that needs working on in training.

    All of this has happened over the last few months. There was a time he would’ve persisted with the likes of Gervinho and Santos, but the ruthless way he got rid of them for a loss illustrates his new approach.

    To say he’s been hindered by a lack of funds was true for a while, but the money has been there to buy an Ozil for the last couple of seasons now. Read this article from July 2011:

    Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis guarantees manager Arsene Wenger has ‘substantial’ funds to spend

    That was the summer we sold Fabregas and Nasri, despite our ‘substantial’ funds, and signed Gervinho. I don’t think that was part of a masterplan that culminated in yesterday’s performance.

    Also, he was hindered by key players leaving because he refused to sign players of quality and they grew exasperated of playing with Bendtner, Diaby, Denilson etc and left to win trophies elsewhere. It was a problem of his own making.

    Last night did not come about because Wenger carried on doing it his way and was ultimately proved right. It came because he finally compromised his stubborn ways on a few key issues and is now reaping the rewards.

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  7. Nico

    Steven – agree with you and how good is it to talk positively about the Arsenal – to be fair to Wenger he only purchased one player – Ozil – just one player oh and Flamini on a free and as far as I’m concerned just as good a signing as Ozil may be better! You say he has had the funds in the last couple of years to buy an Ozil – yes but he had to get rid of all the baggage sucking up a lot of monthly monies in salaries, so he could afford the wages of the Ozil and future world class players – he only managed to do this this year – which is not good enough. Any way great bus, great lift to the squad, club and for the fans generally a massive confidence boost all round. I can say that I look forward to every game now and am getting back that feeling of those great years when who ever we played what ever the score during the game even if we were losing I knew we would win !! Hope I’m proved right because the fans deserve a trophy this year and I think we might just get one! Also a quick note to say that we should feel proud in that we have purchased a world class player for a hell of a lot of money using money we have generated from within basically we have saved up and not used a sugar daddy bring in money from outside – self sufficient and through this we appreciate it more!!

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    • Gooner Steve

      Yes, buying Ozil with our own money instead of Usmanov’s, for example, does make it all the more sweeter. We will be a top club for a long time, but what will happen to Chelski and Man City when their sugar daddies get bored? I can’t wait to find out! 😀

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