Was it Arsenal’s best performance of the year? Or Napoli’s worse? In order to get a game this lopsided, it’d almost have to be both, with the Premier League leaders handing the Partenopei a decisive first loss to their season, 2-0 this evening at the Emirates.
The win leaves Arsenal alone on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group F, with Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, winners over Marseille at the Westfalenstadion, trailing by three points.
The Gunners controlled the game from its early moments but waited until the eighth minute to launch their first major attack, a long ball to striker Olivier Giroud starting a Arsenal transition that tore Napoli open for the game’s first goall. After chesting down 15 yards inside his opponent’s half, Giroud played wide and behind the defense to a streaking Aaron Ramsey, whose foray toward goal ended when he cut a pass back toward the middle of the penalty area. There, a trailing Mesut Özil’s exquisite left-footed finish curled into the left side of goal, eluding a sprawling Pepe Reina to open the scoring.
Seven minutes later, Napoli was even more complicit in their demise, with a poor clearance intercepted at the edge of their defensive third ahead leading to the match-sealing goal. On a ball sent back in to Giroud, the French striker found Özil before moving toward the front of goal. The return ball found the Arsenal number nine for a finish high into Reina’s net, giving Arsenal an early two-goal lead.
Arsenal maintained control throughout the first half, waiting for a Napoli challenge that didn’t arrive. Apparently set to play conservatively on the road, Rafa Benítez’s team never came out of their shell, and while halftime seemed the logical point for the Italians to start chasing their two-goal deficit, the plan remained the same. Napoli would finish the match with only one shot on goal, holding only 37 percent of the match’s possession.
In their first loss of the year, Napoli also played their worst game of the year; even worse than last week’s draw at last place Sassuolo. That 1-1 result, an initial blemish that seemed so disappointing at the time, will be put in perspective by a Tuesday effort that seemed not only poor but unwilling. Nobody could have foreseen such a meek performance.
Arsenal, however, took advantage of their visitors early. Rather than letting a lackadaisical opponent settle into the match, a new, more confident Arsenal made Napoli pay within 15 minutes, with the three stars that have fueled this season’s rise leading todays charge. Aaron Ramsey, the team’s best player throughout the season, was instrumental on the opening goal, with Olivier Giroud rewarded for his part by being set up for the second. And Mesut Özil, whose acquisition has become symbolic of this Gunner resurgence, played a part in both goals, a pristine finish to open the scoring complemented by his assist on goal number two.
Arsène Wenger’s team went up against a poor opponent, but it was their job to make them look bad,. By that standard, today’s win was a resounding success. The 2-0 ultimately flattered a Napoli team who, packing into their end for much of the game, could have easily been on the wrong end of a truly embarrassing result.
Perhaps that mercy was another product of Arsenal’s confidence. Regardless, the Gunners sit first in Group F, their perfect start continuing on a surprisingly easy night at the Emirates.